House of Representatives Considers H-1B Changes

California Representatives Darrell Issa and Scott Peters have proposed changing the requirements for H-1B visas. Most notably, the proposals included within the “Protect and Grow American Jobs Act” would raise the salary threshold companies would be required to pay foreign workers within the program.

Under current rules, companies must pay foreign workers within the program a minimum of $60,000 per year. Issa’s and Peters’ proposal would raise that threshold to $100,000 per year. It would also eliminate the exemption for those individuals who hold a Master’s Degree.

It is the legislators’ belief that the changes proposed within the Protect and Grow American Jobs Act” will reduce abuse of the H-1B system while at the same time raising the salary standards for foreign workers who secure employment through the program. The changes were proposed after high-profile companies including Disney and SoCal Edison were found to have laid off American staff and filled their positions with foreign workers whom they paid less than their American counterparts.

Ostensibly, such a change would help protect the income of workers whose salaries should be above the proposed threshold. However, this change would also make it difficult for companies to fill positions between the existing and proposed threshold with foreign workers through the H-1B program.

Issa and Peters proposed Master’s Degree exemption is intended to address concerns over degree fraud. Critics of the existing exemption claim that foreign workers are obtaining degrees of questionable veracity in order to qualify for the exemption. However, evidence supporting these claims is lacking and does not show serious deficiencies in the quality of Master’s degrees obtained by foreign workers. Removing the Master’s Degree exemption which currently grants up to 20,000 workers visas each year will decrease the number of foreign workers who will be able to obtain an H-1B visa as they will have to compete for spots within the existing cap of 65,000.

As the legislative year begins, it is clear that immigration reform is going to be a front-page topic throughout 2017. As such, those currently living and working in the US via any of the existing visa programs should pay close attention to any changes that can affect them, their employer, or their family. Moreover, those who are considering applying for a visa to the United States should speak with a Chicago immigration lawyer and seek guidance navigating the application and approval process.