Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. He can be reached on [email protected]
The United States Departments of Labor and Homeland Security on Tuesday announced additional immigration reforms that would make it more difficult for skilled foreign workers to acquire H-1B visas.
H-1B visas are granted to skilled workers and are common in the tech industry. They often allow recipients to remain in the United States for many years.
The administration said the rules will go into effect in 60 days and would heighten requirements for businesses that hire foreign workers on H-1B visas.
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Acting Homeland Security Chad Wolf said the new requirements intend to put Americans first because “economic security is homeland security.”
“We have entered an era in which economic security is an integral part of homeland security. Put simply, economic security is homeland security,” acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement. “In response, we must do everything we can within the bounds of the law to make sure the American worker is put first.”
In addition to making it harder for foreign workers to acquire H-1B visas, a new Department of Labor rule would be requiring employers to increase what they pay H-1B recipients to prevent companies from undercutting American workers.
Trump administration officials claimed that the H-1B visa program had been abused at the expense of American workers, and the coronavirus pandemic has made things worse.
In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Ken Cuccinelli, DHS acting deputy secretary said “companies that have used the H-1B program have been incentivized to avoid hiring Americans… so that they can replace them with cheaper foreign labor and that abuse will end with this new rule.”
Ken Cuccinelli, the number 2 at DHS, said on the news conference call on Tuesday that he expects that about one-third of H-1B visa applications would be rejected under the new rule.
The Trump administration has argued that the rule is being put in place to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic that has affected millions of jobs.
“While the current unemployment crisis triggered these regulatory reforms to the H-1B program, we expect that these changes will be long-lasting,” The Hill quoted Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, as saying in a statement. “Once these protections for American workers are firmly in place, it will be very difficult for any future administration to reinstate the ability of employers to deny jobs and undermine the wages of U.S. workers.”
Last Thursday, a judge temporarily lifted a visa ban on a large number of work permits imposed by the Trump administration to reportedly protect American jobs amid coronavirus economic turmoil.
The ban took effect in June and was scheduled to last until the end of the year. It applies to H-1B visas, which are mainly used by major technology companies, H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers, J visas for cultural exchanges and L visas for managers and other key employees of multinational corporations.
“U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said his ruling applied to members of organizations that sued the administration — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, National Retail Federation, TechNet, a technology industry group, and Intrax Inc., which sponsors cultural exchanges,” the Associated Press reported.
“White, ruling in Oakland, California, said his order didn’t extend beyond those groups. But he noted they are comprised of “hundreds of thousands of American businesses of all sizes from a cross-section of economic sectors,” including Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc.,” AP added.
White said President Trump likely acted outside bounds of his authority, AP added.
The judge, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote that “there must be some measure of constraint on Presidential authority in the domestic sphere in order not to render the executive an entirely monarchical power in the immigration context, an area within clear legislative prerogative.”
The Trump administration has tried to limit legal immigration during the coronavirus outbreak, saying it will protect American jobs.
AP noted that “it was the second time in three days that White blocked a significant change on immigration. On Tuesday, he halted major fee increases for citizenship and other benefits three days before they were to take effect.”