Changes made to the H-1B program are aimed at protecting jobs for American workers but may instead have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant, employment-based visa for highly educated workers in specialty occupations. In response to the Trump administration’s “Buy American, Hire American” initiative, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services modified the existing immigration regulations for these skilled workers, prioritizing petitioners with graduate degrees.
Changes to the H-1B Visa Program
Under the newly implemented modifications to the H-1B visa program, the order by which petitions are selected is reversed. Therefore, all petitions will initially count toward the projected number for reaching the H-1B cap. Once enough petitions are selected, USCIS will select petitions towards the advanced degree exemption. Previously, workers holding advanced degrees were selected before the cap was reached. The changes also establish an electronic registration requirement, which has been suspended for the 2020 cap season.
Changes Projected to Aid Employers and Workers
According to USCIS, these modifications are meant to benefit employers and skilled foreign workers seeking employment in the U.S., as well as American-born workers. Under the changes, American workers would not lose out on jobs to foreign workers who are willing to work for less and employers hiring workers with advanced degrees would be more likely to have their visa petitions granted. The changes will also help streamline the process and reduce the costs to employers.
Amendments Meant to Benefit U.S. Workers May Tear at the Economy
At present, the U.S. workforce does not have enough highly skilled workers to fill the need, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math-related fields. By making it more difficult for qualified workers with experience training rather than education to obtain work visas, these workers may instead opt to find employment with companies outside of the U.S., potentially adding to the worker shortage and increasing the competition for American-held businesses.
Concerns that foreign-born workers who are willing to work for less are taking jobs from American-born workers are ill-founded. Having H1-B workers in the labor force adds jobs and, since on average they make more than their U.S.-born colleagues, it also increases wages across the board. A study conducted by New American Economy found that cities in which employers largely lost out on H-1B visa lotteries had significantly less wage growth and job creation for American-born workers in the years following.