Trump administration to sharply limit skilled-worker visas

The Trump administration announced plans Tuesday to sharply limit visas issued to skilled workers from overseas, a move officials said was a priority amid job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor officials said new rules on who can obtain the visas and how much they should be paid would be released soon to restrict the use of what’s known as the H-1B program.

Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said DHS estimates that about one-third of applicants would be denied under new rules that include limits on the number of specialty occupations open to H-1B holders and requirements that employers pay higher wages under the program.

President Donald Trump in July issued an order temporarily suspending the H-1B program until the end of the year.

Cuccinelli and Deputy Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella said the program has been abused to allow companies to displace American workers with less expensive employees from overseas.

“U.S. workers are being ousted from good paying, middle-class jobs and replaced with non-U.S. workers,” Pizzella said. “It has also caused U.S. wages in some instances to stagnate. That is wrong.”

The H-1B program was created under President George H.W. Bush to help companies fill specialized jobs as the tech sector began to boom and it was harder to find qualified workers. Many companies insist they still need the program to fill critical positions.

The U.S. can issue up to 85,000 H-1B visas per year for jobs such as computer programmers, accountants, architects and database administrators. They are typically issued for an initial period of three years and can be renewed. People from India and China make up the majority of the estimated 500,000 H-1B visa holders in the U.S.

Officials said the new rules would be published in the Federal Register this week for public comments before they take effect.