The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have started a crackdown on visas for computer programmers. Technically known as H-1B, this particular visa is currently being considered for reform.
Yet a new policy memorandum just issued by DHS prevents companies from hiring foreign programmers who don’t have US bachelor degrees in a specialty which is actually connected to their job.
According to the memo, “the fact that a person may be employed as a computer programmer and may use information technology skills and knowledge to help an enterprise achieve its goals in the course of his or her job is not sufficient to establish the position as a specialty occupation… an entry-level computer programmer position would not generally qualify as a position in a specialty occupation because the plain language of the statutory and regulatory definition of “specialty occupation” requires in part that the proffered position have a minimum entry requirement of a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty, or its equivalent.”
This makes it more difficult to hire programmers since a general Bachelor Degrees is not accepted anymore. In addition to this, the employer who wants to file for an H-1B visa has to prove that the job is complex and specialized enough to require a Bachelor degree in that precise specialization.
USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) has now more latitude to question if a foreign worker is really needed for a specific position over an American citizen. They can ask companies to prove that a programmer position cannot be filled with a US worker without a bachelor degree.
The number of H-1B applications, which come mostly from India, has nearly doubled since 2014. Yet the number of visas granted has remained at 85,000 per year.
Computer programmers comprised about 12% of all H-1B applications in 2015. Of those, 41% were for positions at the lowest wage level. The new guidelines refer specifically to these lower positions.
For the current fiscal year, the USCIS received a record 236,000 H-1B applications. For 2018 which is opening now, several immigration attorneys estimate 250,000 to 300,000 petitions. The inflow will be so intense that the government will probably stop accepting them before the end of this month.
Targeted Site Visits to Prevent Frauds
At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have announced they will prosecute with energy any H-1B fraud.
DHS will conduct inspections in the workplaces with the largest percentage of H-1B workers. They will also check on companies that do IT work for others. Possible targets would be for example Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., Infosys Ltd., Wipro Ltd. and, Accenture Plc.
The element for triggering an inspection is: “a high ratio of H-1B workers as compared to U.S. workers.” USCIS will also establish an email address where people can alert about possible frauds or abuses.
“Information submitted to the email address will be used for investigations and referrals to law enforcement agencies for potential prosecution.”
The official position is that US companies should not be using H-1B visas to discriminate against American workers.
“The H-1B visa program should help U.S. companies recruit highly-skilled foreign nationals when there is a shortage of qualified workers in the country. Yet, too many American workers who are as qualified, willing, and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged.”
USCIS stressed its priority of combating fraud in the employment-based immigration system. The same note was released by the Department of Justice which commented:
“U.S. workers should not be placed in a disfavored status, and the department is wholeheartedly committed to investigating and vigorously prosecuting these claims.”
The new policy reverses 17-years of processing routine just days before H-1B applications for 2018 begin. It might also impact renewals and it targets offshore companies operating in the USA. Most Silicon Valley hi-tech companies don’t hire entry-level programmers. Yet employers are likely to react to the suddenness of the change. And some may challenge it on the grounds that USCIS didn’t provide sufficient notice.