DJ DHS Delays Rule That Would Have Effectively Eliminated H-1B Visa Lottery -- Update
WASHINGTON -- The Department of Homeland Security said it wouldn't apply a Trump administration rule that would have effectively eliminated the H-1B visa lottery for high-skilled workers for the coming registration season and replaced it with a system that awards the visas to more experienced and higher-paid applicants.
The agency said it would delay the rule for the registration period starting in March until Dec. 31 and reopen it to public comment, leaving room for DHS to alter the rule before it takes effect next year. The delay offers some long-awaited certainty to businesses looking to sponsor foreign professionals for the visas this year.
The Trump administration, which finalized the rule in January, said the visa program artificially depressed wages by allowing employers to hire foreign workers at lower salaries, and that awarding visas to foreign professionals who would earn the highest salaries in their fields would create upward pressure on the market overall. The administration also tightened issuance of the visas, rejecting 15.1% of applications in 2019 compared with 6.1% in 2016, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.The rule was criticized by business groups and other immigration advocates.
The Trump administration also said the coronavirus pandemic required limits on immigration to prevent sick people from entering the country and to ensure that Americans get jobs first as the economy rebounds.
Under the rule, visas would be awarded to applicants at the highest wage level of their given occupation within a particular geographic region. The government calculated four wage levels for each occupation in a given region, and employers would be required to pay salaries at or above those levels based on their visa worker's job experience.
That setup would almost guarantee that no applicants ranked at wage level one -- roughly entry-level workers -- would qualify for visas. The government awards 85,000 new H-1B visas a year, and demand has consistently outstripped supply.
Jon Baselice, executive director of immigration policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said when the rule was proposed in October that it would disrupt the operations of many businesses by denying them access to the talent they need to grow and create jobs.
"The Trump administration issued this midnight regulation and didn't provide any guidance to affected parties and their lawyers about how the system was going to work" in time for the registration period, Sharvari Dalal-Dheini, director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said Thursday. "That's caused a lot of anxiety."
While President Biden has committed to undoing many aspects of immigration policy that former President Donald Trump put in place, his administration hasn't said it is opposed to how the Trump administration handled the visa program, which technology companies rely on particularly to hire foreign professionals and recent international graduates of U.S. universities.
President Biden's campaign platform stated that "high skilled temporary visas should not be used to disincentivize recruiting workers already in the U.S.," and administration officials and others familiar with the matter say it is likely they will seek to preserve some preference for visa applicants with higher salaries going forward.
"It looks like the only problem the Biden team had with ending the H-1B lottery was that the Trump administration came up with the idea," said Rob Law, the former head of policy at DHS's legal-immigration agency, who helped write the rule changing the process.
The immigration bill Mr. Biden sent to Congress also proposes adding a wage requirement to H-1B and possibly other visas, according to a section-by-section summary of the bill seen by The Wall Street Journal.
Write to Michelle Hackman at Michelle.Hackman@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 04, 2021 19:16 ET (00:16 GMT)
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