Trump Administration Changes H1-B Visa Program to Favor Advanced Degree Holders

January 31, 2019, 2:35 PM UTC

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced changes to the H1-B visa program for highly-skilled foreign workers, and outsourcing companies aren’t happy.

The change is expected to net up to 5,340 immigrants with a master’s degree or doctorate more than the way the program previously ran, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The H1-B modification is a result of Donald Trump’s “buy American and hire American” executive order. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he claimed there was “rampant, widespread H-1B abuse.”

The demand among employers for H1-B visas almost always exceeds availability. The system uses a pair of lotteries for the visas. In the past, a first drawing for 20,000 visas was open only to those with advanced degrees. The second lottery for the remaining 65,000 visas was then held for anyone who had at least a bachelor’s degree.

The new approach flips the order of the lotteries. That means a bigger pool of people with advanced degrees enters the general lottery and then those who don’t receive a visa go into the second drawing, given a statistical advantage to those with a master’s or higher.

Outsourcing companies, often based overseas, don’t like the change, according to the San Jose Mercury News. NASSCOM, an Indian organization representing IT consulting and outsourcing firms, said that the move would shut out a needed segment of tech workers.

But as the New York Times has reported in the past, foreign consulting firms have dominated the awarding of H1-B visa, flooding the system with applications. Because of minimum pay levels that were still below market rates, they were exempt from requirements to not displace U.S. workers. The result was pricing competitive advantage and fewer domestic jobs for citizens.

The result, according to critics like Norm Matloff, a professor of computer science at the University of California at Davis, was wage suppression for both immigrants and Americans.