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Erickson in the News: Trump changes high-tech visa system, making it less attractive for employers

February 1, 2019

The Trump administration announced changes to the H-1B visa program Thursday that would make the process more favorable toward the most highly educated applicants who can demand higher salaries. That’s likely to make the program less attractive to businesses seeking only applicants who hold bachelor’s degrees or their equivalent.

Since demand for the visas far exceeds supply, the program grants the degrees through a lottery system. Applicants are sponsored by U.S. companies. The administration will make the visas that are open to all applicants the first to be distributed. Visas for a separate, advance degree category will follow, reversing the prior process.

Thursday’s change will make it harder for applicants with bachelor’s degrees or their equivalent to get visas because they will put in greater competition with the applicants who do have more advanced degrees. The administration estimates the change will result in 16 percent more of visas going to applicants with master’s degrees or higher degrees, or about 5,340 of the total awarded. The government also implemented a new, more rigorous registration program for applicants.

“The larger companies that already employ people with master’s degrees aren’t going to find sponsoring [a worker] less attractive. For staffing companies or consulting companies it is going to make sponsorship more difficult,” said Hiba Anver, senior managing attorney for Erickson Immigration Group, a law firm. Anver added that she believed the administration’s estimate of 16 percent was too high and it was probably in the mid- to upper-single digits.

The Department of Homeland Security announced the changes, which will take effect on April 1. The program is used by companies to hire foreign workers with specialized skills that require higher education, such as tech-based jobs. The number of visas is capped at 65,000 for regular applicants with 20,000 more for applicants with advanced degrees from U.S. institutions.

The administration claimed that it had streamlined the process, aiding applicants and their sponsors. “These simple and smart changes are a positive benefit for employers, the foreign workers they seek to employ, and the agency’s adjudicators, helping the H-1B visa program work better,” said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Francis Cissna in a statement.

The high-tech industry, one of the main sponsor of the visa holders, was circumspect regarding the changes.

“The tech industry appreciates the administration’s response to public feedback and its decision to postpone implementation of the H-1B electronic registration requirement for fiscal year 2020,” said Karolina Filipiak, director of government affairs for the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents Apple, Dell, and Facebook, among others. “We will closely monitor the rule’s implementation and continue to provide U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with additional guidance on the measure’s broader implications as necessary.”