Has the H-1B visa program strayed off course?

The H-1B visa program was established under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. These temporary visas were intended to help American companies. If qualified American workers were not available, a company could look overseas and offer a suitably skilled candidate a temporary visa.

However, a 2013 settlement suggests that the program has been subject to some abuse. In that year, a Bangalore-based company, Infosys Ltd., agreed to a $34 million settlement with federal prosecutors. The company was accused of sending employees to the United States with visitor visas instead of going through the H-1B program. The company may have been trying to avoid the cap of 85,000 H-1B visas that are given out each year.

Temporary visas were also an issue in the recent Presidential campaign, with allegations that the H-1B program was stealing jobs from Americans. A company might have a financial incentive to hire workers under the H-1B program, as foreign workers are often paid less than their American counterparts.

The evidence regarding the H-1B program may be mixed, but the current administration’s political ideology is not. Several recent executive orders have articulated that ideology. However, the separation of powers prevents the unilateral dismantling of the H-1B program. For example, an executive order cannot change the number of H-1B visas that are awarded each year; only Congress can make that change.

Yet an executive order does have some influence. For example, an executive order could change how H-1B visas are awarded, perhaps requiring that higher paid employees receive priority, or that American candidates be hired before searching for foreign candidates. Such an executive order might also reduce the number of H-1B visas awarded to lower-paid employment positions.

Source: Bloomberg, “Trump, Congress and the Push for Work Visa Reform: QuickTake Q&A,” Saritha Rai and Peter Elstrom, Feb. 15 2017

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