- President Donald Trump said during a press conference Friday that his administration is looking into issues surrounding the employment of skilled foreign workers in industries like technology, The Wall Street Journal reported.
- Without stating specific policy changes, Trump made the comments as part of a larger argument for a merit-based immigration system, according to The Wall Street Journal. "We have to let these great, brilliant companies have the smartest people in the world," Trump said.
- The administration has previously proposed rule changes to the H-1B visa program — a process used by many employers in high-end science, technology, engineering and mathematics industries to reach their employment goals — that would alter the process by which employers submit petitions for those visas.
Trump's comments were "surprising at first" given the administration's focus on other areas of immigration reform, according to Richard Burke, president and CEO of immigration services provider Envoy Global, who spoke to HR Dive. But from the employer perspective, Burke said taking steps to ease the process of applying for highly skilled foreign workers would make sense in consideration of economic and other factors.
At present, the federal government has set a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas each fiscal year, with an additional 20,000 slots available for petitions filed on behalf of those with a U.S. master's degree or higher, bringing the total number of visas awarded annually to 85,000. Not only has that cap been set higher in the past, but it is also "not nearly enough" to meet employer demand, Burke said. Despite a recent decline in the number of H-1B petitions submitted by U.S. businesses in recent years, last year's total surpassed 190,000 total petitions.
Then there's the rule changes proposed by U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Essentially, the agency would reverse the order by which petitions are processed, counting all applications against the 65,000 cap before selecting for the 20,000 spots reserved for those eligible for the advanced degree exception to the cap. According to the language of the rule, DHS said the changes would make it more likely that the visas would be awarded to "the most-skilled and highest paid beneficiaries." The public comment period for the rule closed Jan. 2, just months before DHS begins accepting petitions for the 2020 fiscal year.
It's unclear whether DHS intends to implement the rule change in time for the April 2 deadline. A comment submitted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recommended that DHS delay implementation until after the 2020 fiscal year, citing the need for "full testing and vetting" of the final registration system as well as notices of changes and the "incorporation of stakeholder input." But SHRM did include as one of its recommendations that DHS "[i]mprove the registration and filing process to allow for greater efficiency gains." This is generally in line with the sentiments of employer clients of Envoy, Burke said.
While high-level immigration changes — like those hinted at by Trump — are unlikely to occur soon, Burke said, employers are aware of the pressure surrounding the issue. "The best employers are very mindful that the biggest change in the high-level immigration has been an increased level of anxiety," he said. "Things like the travel ban have played into this." Companies are hoping to counter this tension by offering certain benefits, like helping to sponsor applications for a green card and providing third-party experts to help visa holders navigate the process.
Burke also recommended that employers approach the upcoming application process for 2020's fiscal year as they would have for previous years, which SHRM also recommended in a statement accompanying its public comment on the DHS rule changes.