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Highly skilled foreign workers feel the squeeze from visa changes

The Trump administration is making it more difficult for highly skilled foreign workers such as physicians and those from the tech sector to secure employment in the U.S., while also posing more challenges for American companies that want to hire them. Major changes to the H-1B visa program will require U.S. companies to pay significantly higher wages to foreign workers, while also tightening the eligibility for visa applicants. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced on Oct. 6 the rule change, slated to take effect in early December.

The government insists that the changes protect U.S. workers and jobs. However, critics say it will have the opposite effect, causing harm to start-up companies, small businesses, rural hospitals and health care providers looking to hire foreign workers. Immigration attorneys expect to challenge the changes in court.

Employers wanted expansion, not a contraction

The H-1B visa targets workers in specialty jobs, allowing U.S. companies to hire graduate-level workers in industries such as IT, medicine, science, finance and engineering. U.S. companies have been longtime advocates of the program that provides them with a pipeline to highly skilled workers abroad.

Typically, the U.S. government annually issues 85,000 H-1B visas, usually resorting to a lottery system to award them because so many foreign workers apply. As a result of the changes, the government expects to receive one-third fewer applications for the highly sought-after visas. Many U.S. employers, primarily technology companies had long desired an expansion of the program.

Key points from the changes

Here are some of the key points of the new changes:

  • The rule goes into effect 60 days after Oct. 6.
  • The rule significantly increases workers’ wages, thus resulting in much higher costs for certain employers.
  • It requires foreign workers to have a college degree in the occupation for which they apply. In the past, it was just any college degree.
  • Some applicants must prove how their studies gave them “a body of highly specialized knowledge” for any U.S. job that they seek.

Many U.S. companies have long embraced the H-1B visa program. But now they face more obstacles in hiring highly skilled foreign workers. With the election less than a month away, some critics consider the Trump administration’s move as one that is politically motivated.