The Trump administration’s once-rumored restrictions to the H-1B visa program have begun to take effect.
They’re causing a shakeup particularly in the United States' tech industry because the temporary, non-immigrant work document enables companies to hire highly skilled foreign workers in fields that require technical and theoretical expertise.
Tech giants and large corporations have advocated for an expansion of the H-1B visa program and its annual cap, arguing that the pool of highly skilled workers in the U.S. isn’t big enough. Critics, meanwhile, have accused companies of abusing the program and outsourcing work, leaving many Americans unemployed.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) last Thursday issued a policy memo, effective immediately, that “clarifies policy on requirements for third-party worksite H-1B petitions” and “strengthens protections to combat H-1B abuses.”
The memo states that applicants must supply "detailed statements of work or work orders" about any duties performed by a worker holding an H-1B visa at a third-party site. In addition, employers are required to provide more information about why they need to hire someone from abroad to complete a job.
According to the memo, the visa beneficiary should have “specific and non-speculative qualifying assignments in a specialty occupation for the beneficiary for the entire time requested in the petition.” H-1B visa holders could earn less money than their employers promise or perform “non-specialty” jobs when hired out to any third-party workplace, the memo states.
The policy update aligns with President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” initiative he promised on the campaign trail to protect the interests of American workers.
Such restrictions have led many H-1B visa holders to move or contemplate moving north to Canada, which is allowing companies to hire skilled workers with less bureaucracy.
The new memo came just a couple months after reports that Trump was considering a proposal that would block H-1B visa extensions, and possibly lead to deportations. Media in India estimated that 500,000 to 750,000 Indian visa holders could be forced out of the U.S. Thousands of immigrants, mostly Indian, apply for visa extensions beyond the allowed two 3-year terms if they have green card applications in the system.
USCIS officials at the time did not deny the proposal’s existence.
“The agency is considering a number of policy and regulatory changes to carry out the President’s Buy American, Hire American Executive Order, including a thorough review of employment-based visa programs,” USCIS spokesman Jonathan Withington stated.
But following backlash from business leaders in the U.S. and India as well as lawmakers, officials seemed to distance themselves from the proposal. "USCIS is not considering a regulatory change that would force H-1B visa holders to leave the United States by changing our interpretation of section 104(c) of AC-21, which provides for H-1B extensions beyond the 6-year limit," the agency said in a statement.
Prior to that, the fall edition of the semi-annual Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, which lists regulations agencies have under development, included a notice indicating the Department of Homeland Security was considering a halt to granting work authorization to some holders of H-4 visas, which are given to the spouses of H-1B recipients.
USCIS spokeswoman Joanne Talbot in an email to Newsweek this week said the agency did “not have any updates to share” on the H-1B program and considerations by the Trump administration to limit it.
More from Newsweek