Tech giants fight for talented software engineers. To help them in their quest to be the best place to work (or rather, create the biggest money-making machine), these tech companies look abroad for talent.
That effort is getting harder thanks to the Trump administration. A new bill quietly passed over the weekend, surfaced by Axios, includes H-1B guidelines that suggest computer programmers are no longer presumed to be eligible. Applicants must now submit additional evidence in their application that prove the jobs are complex and specialized and require looking abroad.
It gets stricter.
Not only are the individual visa applications under more scrutiny, immigration enforcers now plan to have more “targeted site visits,” a.k.a. physically going into company offices to evaluate whether or not the employers are “evading their obligation to make a good faith effort to recruit U.S. workers,” according to the government-issued press release.
The rules are already in effect.
Starting Monday, companies can apply for H-1B visas in an annual lottery process. As Axios suggested, the bill attempts to limit the ability for companies to “employ lower-paid, lower-level computer workers.” Yet, that isn’t the reaction it’s getting from foreign workers in the tech community:
But supporters of the actions that Trump promised to fulfill during his campaign seem pleased:
This action doesn’t just affect tech companies and computer programmers, but those professions make up a decent portion of H-1B applicants. In 2015, computer programmers were 12 percent of all H-1B applicants approved by the Department of Labor.
The Valley took issue with the impact this will have: “The only thing this memo is saying is ‘Hey, someone issued you folks a memorandum in December 2000 that shouldn’t be used anymore because things have changed. We’re rescinding it so that no one uses it accidentally,'” posted a commenter on the blog.
Overall, the issue is sensitive for Silicon Valley. It’s critical for tech giants to hire foreign workers to serve in all aspects of the business. Let’s say you’re Facebook, Apple, or Google, because they serve an international audience. Facebook, for example, has nearly 2 billion users. There are only about 325 million people in the U.S.
But the argument goes in favor of U.S.-based companies hiring at home. When these companies hire foreign workers, there needs to be a good reason, per this policy. That’s why the press release is titled, “Putting American Workers First.”
When asked about immigration policy back in October 2015, then-Republican candidate Donald Trump proposed that employers should pay H-1B workers more money, as to disincentivize the companies from hiring abroad.
Trump also specifically called out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s use of the H-1B program and suggested that such an action by his administration could improve the diversity issues in the tech industry.
“This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program. Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Senator, Marco Rubio, has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities,” Trump’s immigration plan read.
Other experts see this as a smart move in tightening. The H-1B program has not been eliminated, but it is, for sure, not being expanded. “This is a step in the right direction in terms of tightening up the eligibility,” Ron Hira, an associate professor at Howard University told Bloomberg. “You’re going to have to beef up your argument for why you need this person.”
“You’re going to have to beef up your argument for why you need this person.”
Compete America, a coalition group of tech businesses that includes Microsoft, Intel and Google, argued that companies should be able to hire from the U.S. and from abroad.
“American companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to educate and train American workers for jobs in STEM fields. But our fastest growing industries also rely on the ability to recruit talent from around the world, ultimately helping to grow jobs in the U.S. and sustain America’s global competitiveness and leadership in both innovation and technology,” said Scott Corley, executive director of Compete America, in a statement.
This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has put up a hurdle in the H-1B program. In March, the administration suspended a program that allowed expedited visa processing for certain skilled workers who paid more. As in rich, powerful companies (like Facebook) could pay extra to have these foreign workers expedited through the process.
Compete America suggested that more congressional action should take place to improve the H-1B system in general. “Congress needs to reform our highly skilled immigration system to create the certainty and confidence U.S. employers, U.S. workers, and foreign professionals deserve,” Corley’s statement continued.