The main US visa program for technology workers could be re-examined by President-elect Donald Trump and his proposed Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions, a long-time critic of the Skilled-Worker Program.
H-1B visas each year attract 65,000 workers and 20,000 graduate students. The technology industry, which has lobbied to expand the program, may now have to fight a rearguard move to protect it, lawyers and immigration lobbyists said.
Trump sent mixed signals on the campaign track, sometimes criticizing visas, but at other times calling them an important means of retaining foreign talent.
Sessions, however, has long sought to restrict the program and introduced legislation last year aimed at making visas less available to large outsourcing companies such as Infosys.
These companies, by far the largest users of H-1B visas, provide foreign entrepreneurs to US companies seeking to reduce information technology costs.
“Thousands of American workers are being replaced by foreign workers,” Sessions said at a hearing in February.
A spokesman for the Sessions did not respond immediately to a request for comments. A spokesman for Trump transition team refused to comment.
The H-1B visa is intended for specialized occupations that generally require college training.
Companies use them in two main ways to hire technology workers. Technology companies such as Microsoft and Google typically hire highly skilled and well-paid foreign workers who are short of supply. They help many of them to secure the so-called green cards that allow them to work in the United States permanently.
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H-1B visas are issued by lottery once a year by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
This year, companies filed 236,000 applications for the 85,000 visas available, a cap set in US law. They are allocated to employers – not employees – and tied to specific positions.
Democrat and Republican critics have argued that companies like Walt Disney Co and Southern California Edison Co, a utility company, used the program to terminate internal IT employees and replace them with cheaper contractors.
Sessions last year urged then Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the use of southern California Edison’s H-1B visas in a letter that was also signed by Senate Democrats Bernie Sanders, Richard Durbin and Sherrod Brown .
Disney and Edison did not immediately respond to requests for comments, but previously said they paid foreign contractors compared to local employees.
The Department of Justice settled a visa fraud case in 2013 with Infosys for $ 34 million.
Federal investigators accused Infosys of using business travel visas that were easier to obtain to import foreign workers who needed an H-1B visa. Investigators also alleged that Infosys told foreign workers to lie to US officials about the cities they were going to work for.
In the regulation, Infosys denied the allegations but agreed to keep a third party auditor for two years and provide the government with detailed descriptions of what his visa holders were supposed to do in the United States.
A CALLS FOR A CHANGE :
Several ridings have called for program reforms, including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the largest industrial group in the industry.
He wants the lottery to be abandoned in favor of a system that would grant visas to companies offering the highest paid jobs, “said Russ Harrison, director of government relations.
This could potentially exclude employers seeking to exploit the cheap foreign labor program.
The sessions included a similar measure in its 2015 bill.
Technological industry groups also want changes. FWD.us, the immigration lobby group supported by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, supports the establishment of higher minimum wages and giving priority to companies that sponsor H-1B workers for green cards.
The current program benefits mainly large companies at the expense of US and immigrant workers, said Gaurav Mehta, a 32-year-old H-1B carrier from New Delhi who works for a cyber security company in San Francisco.
H-1B workers struggle to change jobs without risking deportation, he said, allowing employers to pay less.
“The current system does not work for Americans, and it does not work for immigrants,” he said.
Some Trump allies expect him to keep the program essentially intact, including Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar – an Indian-born businessman from Chicago who donated $ 900,000 to his campaign.
“He told us that these are amazing people and it would be crazy to let them go,” Kumar said in an interview.
But Kumar urged Trump to eliminate country-by-country quotas that create long expectations for Indian and Chinese nationals to get green cards.
John Miano, a lawyer at the Immigration Reform Law Institute – a conservative group that has been aligned with Trump – also supports the priority of H-1B applications of companies offering higher salaries.
Such a change would hurt hard outsourcing companies. The top 10 H-1B visa beneficiaries in 2015 were all outsourcing companies, according to government data compiled by the IEEE.
Tata Consultancy Services completed the list by obtaining 8,333 H-1B visas. Amazon, on the contrary, ranked number 12 and received only 826 H-1B visas. Google and Microsoft ranked No. 14 and 15, with Facebook at No. 24 and Apple at No. 34.
Some H-1B visa holders are not on hold. Sofie Graham, a trader at the startup of San Francisco BuildZoom.com and a dual Irish and British citizen, obtained her H-1B visa last year. Although she was able to work for six years on the visa, she and the companies decided to apply for a green-card.
“Everywhere I looked, people said we should have less H-1B,” she said.
“I just wanted to get a green card as soon as possible.”