Democratic Party leaders on Wednesday flayed the Donald Trump administration for bringing major changes in the H-IB visa programme just before the presidential polls without public scrutiny.
Reacting to the criticism, ruling Republicans said the move will address abuses in the high-skilled guest worker programme used to ‘displace’ American workers with low-paid foreign labour.
The H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in ‘speciality occupations’ that require theoretical or technical expertise.
A day earlier, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had announced an interim final rule that narrows down the definition of “specialty occupation”.
It will require companies to make ‘real’ offers to ‘real employees’ by plugging loopholes and preventing the “displacement” of the American workers.
“With less than 30 days to go before the elections, the Trump Administration announced that it will implement the most sweeping changes to the H-1B visa programme we have seen in decades, and will do so by skirting the normal notice and comment process required by the Administrative Procedure Act,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said.
The powerful Democrat from New York said while the programme can certainly benefit from reforms, the US laws require that the public be provided with adequate notice and a meaningful opportunity to comment before such reforms are implemented.
“This simply cannot be accomplished to the degree required through an interim final rule and the administration knows this. This is clearly an attempt to score the last minute political points,” Nadler said.
In a statement, Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren said over the years, she had introduced several bills that would reform the H-1B programme to prohibit substandard wages and ensure that unscrupulous employers don’t abuse the system to the detriment of US workers.
“Yet, while the system needs updating, changes this substantial must not be rushed through without adequate input from the public,” she said.
“Further, the Congress set forth very clear parameters when it created the H-1B programme and the administration has admitted that the new DHS rule will affect more than one-third of H-1B petitions that have been lawfully filed and approved for decades,” she said.
Accordingly, as has been the case with so many of this administration’s “unlawful” policies, Congresswoman Lofgren said she expects this too will be quickly enjoined by the court.
Meanwhile, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley applauded the move to “crack down on widespread abuses” within the programme.
“I have long expressed concern that the H-1B programme, as it currently operates, undermines the wages and job opportunities of American workers and contains inadequate protections for American and immigrant workers alike,” he said.
“Instead of being used to fill legitimate gaps in the labour force, the H-1B programme is often abused to simply replace American workers with cheap guest worker labour. That abuse needs to stop and I strongly support the efforts,” Grassley said.
The Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday that while the programme intended to allow employers to fill gaps in their workforce and remain competitive in the global economy, it has expanded far beyond that, often to the detriment of US workers.
Data shows that more than half-a-million H-1B non-immigrants in the United States have been used to displace US workers, which has led to reduced wages in a number of industries and stagnation of wages in certain occupations, it said.
In a separate statement, American Immigration Lawyers Association opposed the move.
AILA president Jennifer Minear said foreign workers play a vital role in the American economy but these regulations will create nearly insurmountable barriers to their hiring.
“Not only do these rules inappropriately scapegoat immigrants for the ills of our current economic downturn but they are also self-defeating,” Miniear said.
“These rules will undoubtedly hamstring a process proven to bring some of the world’s best and brightest into American businesses. American workers and businesses only stand to suffer as a result of these changes until these rules are challenged and overturned in court,” he said.
“Contrary to the narrative promoted by the DHS and DOL and echoed by restrictionist groups, these rules will have crippling effects on American businesses and the economy at large,” said Benjamin Johnson, AILA’s executive director.
“These regulations will lay the groundwork for the pricing out of foreign labour, which is essential to the solvency of countless American businesses. Under the guise of economic recovery, the government is essentially halting the pipeline of global talent needed for innovation and economic success,” Johnson said.