Although these visas, known as H-1B, aren’t supposed to displace American workers, critics say the program mostly benefits consulting firms that let tech companies save money by contracting out their jobs to foreign workers.
Trump signed an order Tuesday to direct the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Labor and State to propose new rules to prevent immigration fraud and abuse. Those departments would also be asked to offer changes so that H-1B visas are awarded to the “most-skilled or highest-paid applicants.”
Here’s a look at how the H-1B visa program works.
Is this a Tech Visa Program?
The H-1B program is open to a broad range of occupations, including architects, professors and even fashion models. It’s meant for jobs requiring specialty skills that cannot be filled by a U.S. worker. Many of these jobs happen to be in tech. According to the Labor Department, the top three H-1B occupations are computer systems analysts, application software developers and computer programmers — and those three account for roughly half of the department’s H-1B certifications.
The tech industry says that companies have trouble filling positions with American workers and must turn to other countries through this program. Supporters have sought to expand the number of visas allowed each year, something unlikely to happen.
By the Numbers
Although the program is capped at 85,000 new H-1B visas each year, more than 100,000 workers are allowed in annually because of exemptions for university-related positions. Recipients can stay up to six years. Demand is usually higher than the cap, so the government holds an annual lottery. This year, the government received nearly 200,000 applications for the available spots in less than a week.
What about American Jobs?
By law, companies are required to pay at least the prevailing wage for that occupation. In practice, critics say companies can pay less by classifying jobs at the lowest skill levels, even if the specific workers hired have more experience. Many of the overseas workers are willing to work for as little as US$60,000 annually, far less than US$100,000-plus salaries typically paid to U.S. technology workers.