Large numbers of job seekers from around the world are filing applications at U.S. federal offices as the season opened Monday for H1-B visas for foreign workers.
H1-Bs allow employers – mostly high-tech firms – to hire skilled foreign workers for jobs in the United States for three years. Eighty-five thousand slots are available - 65,000 for applicants with bachelor’s degrees and 20,000 for those with master’s or more advanced degrees.
In recent years, there have been so many applications that the U.S. government stopped accepting them within a week. Visa winners are chosen by a computer-generated lottery.
This year, there is additional pressure because the program's future is not clear.
President Donald Trump has vowed that he will not allow American workers to be displaced by foreigners holding H1-B visas.
On Monday, as the application process opened, the Department of Justice warned U.S. companies not to discriminate against American workers.
“U.S. workers should not be placed in a disfavored status, and the department is wholeheartedly committed to investigating and vigorously prosecuting these claims,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Civil Rights Division.
At the same time, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) warned it will take a “more targeted approach” as it makes site inspections across the country. What it will be targeting includes an inability to find an employer’s basic business information through commercially available data, employers who have a high ratio of H1-B employees to U.S. workers, and employers who petition for H1-B workers to work off-site.
Overwhelmingly, India has been the biggest recipient of H1-B visas. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reports that 71 percent of H1-Bs went to Indians in 2015. China was a distant second with 10 percent of the visas.
India’s success is attributed to its huge outsourcing firms that submit thousands of applications every year, increasing their chances of winning the lottery. Outsourcing firms, which supply services to other companies, are controversial because they are not subject to a federal requirement that they not displace American workers if they pay the H1-Bs at least $60,000 a year.
The H1-B visa program has proponents who argue that there are not enough Americans to fill all the slots for which skilled workers are needed. A research brief filed Monday by the bipartisan group New American Economy said that there are “persistent and dramatic” worker shortages in science, technology, engineering and math.
The group of mayors and business leaders who support immigration reform said that in 2016, there were more than a dozen jobs posted in those fields for every one unemployed eligible U.S. worker.
Competing bills in the U.S. Congress both expand and curtail the H1-B visa program.
In the meantime, spouses of H1-B holders, who are allowed to work under a 2015 rule, are still in limbo regarding their eventual employment status.
The Department of Justice, acting on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, has asked for additional time to review the rule that allows spouses of H1-B visa holders to work.
Implemented under the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, the rule has been challenged in court by Save Jobs USA, an organization of information technology workers who claim to have lost their jobs to H1-B visa holders. The group maintains that the rule threatens American jobs.
Before the rule, spouses, who hold H-4 visas, were not allowed to work.
In February, the DHS had asked for 60 days to review the rule. On Monday, that 60-day period closed and the Department of Justice requested a 180-day extension, promising to update the federal appeals court at 60 days.
Save Jobs USA filed a cross motion Monday asking that the additional time be denied.