With half a dozen bills looming in congress addressing various reforms to the H-1B visa program, many are concerned what this could mean for the current filing season.
Bills have been introduced which would change the cap, the minimum wage, and place restrictions on H-1B dependent firms. However, it appears that any changes for the current filing season are unlikely.
On March 8, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated:
“I think there is the legal part of immigration and then the illegal part of immigration. The President’s actions that he’s taken in terms of his executive order and other revamping of immigration policy have focused on our border security, keeping our country safe, our people safe. And then, obviously, whether it’s H-1B visas or the other one — spousal visas — other areas of student visas, I think there is a natural desire to have a full look at — a comprehensive look at that.”
The Press Secretary did not indicate that there would be any changes to the H-1B program before the April 1st filling. The cap will remain at 85,000 visas and the prevailing wage at $60,000.
His statement highlights the Trump Administration’s focus on undocumented immigrants and national security than changing legal immigration programs. However, changes to immigrant and non-immigrant visa programs are ahead. “He (Trump) would like to see reforms to those programs, as I would,” Sen. Cotton (R-Ark.) said.
Although immediate changes may not be inevitable, the Administration has pledged, as Spicer stated, to take a “comprehensive look” at the non-immigrant visa programs including the H-1B.
The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, for example, which has been introduced by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue threatens to reduce overall Immigration by 41% in its first year and 50% by year 10. The RAISE Act promises to, “… raise American workers’ wages by reducing overall immigration by half and rebalancing the system toward employment-based visas and immediate family household members.”
The act would accomplish this by ending the H-1B visa lottery and opting for a merit-based system, limiting annual refugee admission to 50,000, reducing family-sponsored immigrants from 480,000 to 88,000 while introducing a W-visa for parents of adult US citizens. W-visa holders would not be eligible to receive public benefits.
The Act asserts strong limitations on family-sponsored visas with the aim of,
“…retain(ing) immigration preferences for the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents while eliminating preferences for certain categories of extended and adult family members.”
Denying visas for immediate relatives of citizens and legal permanent residents would drastically reduce the number of immigrants coming into the country while creating a preference for the young (children) and the old (parents) while eliminating visas for the working ages. The working ages are the most productive.
The RAISE Act assumed it will “help raise American workers’ wages”. In reality, immigration and diversity in the workplace increases wages. A study from Dr. Abigail Cook, assistant professor at SUNY-Buffalo, found that as diversity in the workplace rose one standard deviation, wages increased by 1.6%. A similar rise in the city as a whole increased wages by 6.0%.
This, in conjunction with the findings of an American Institute of Economic Research study that found that age, gender, and race, are all greater determining factors in wage differentiation than immigration, shows that H-1B and other visas are not destroying wages or eliminating jobs for Americans.
In the months ahead, passage of the RAISE Act or similar legislative measures could mean changes to the H-1B and other visa programs even if they don’t occur immediately. Although the administration is currently focused on non-documented persons, comprehensive changes could be in store for legal immigration. Sectors that utilize these visa options to obtain workers with the skill and training to fill specialized positions should brace for a disruption in their usual hiring routine.