New Memo Hints at Tighter H-1B Standards

In theory, the H-1B visa gives companies the ability to acquire highly specialized talent from overseas. But critics argue that firms abuse the system in order to bring in tech pros at a lower salary than their domestic counterparts.

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to do something about the current H-1B system. While he hasn’t introduced the sweeping reforms that those critics want and expect, a slow trickle of policy updates is beginning to change how H-1B applicants make their way through the process. Some of those updates are a little confusing—such as a new memo that made some think certain types of workers would be forbidden from obtaining an H-1B.

That policy memo, issued March 31, asks U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employees to determine whether applicants for the H-1B visa are actually doing jobs that require highly specialized knowledge. “An entry-level computer programmer position would not generally qualify as a position in a specialty occupation,” the memo (PDF) added, “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.” (Italics theirs.)

Contrary to some early reports, this guidance doesn’t prevent people with anything less than a bachelor’s degree from applying for an H-1B. Indeed, the memo’s primary mission is to supersede directives in an older handbook (issued in 2000) still used by the Nebraska Service Center (NSC), one of the facilities processing H-1Bs; other service centers use updated guidance.

Nonetheless, by suggesting that H-1B applicants should undergo greater scrutiny, including an evaluation of whether their skillset really qualifies as “specialized,” this memo re-emphasizes how the H-1B process under Trump may become more stringent. “This is a step in the right direction in terms of tightening up the eligibility,” Ron Hira, an associate professor at Howard University and expert in H-1Bs, told Bloomberg after the memo’s release. “You’re going to have to beef up your argument for why you need this person.”

This memo isn’t the only recent tweak to the system. Starting April 3, USCIS suspended premium processing for all H-1B petitions. Although that pause is only supposed to last six months, it affects not only those who filed for the program’s fiscal 2018 regular cap, but also the master’s advanced degree cap exemption.

“This temporary suspension will help us to reduce overall H-1B processing times,” USCIS claimed in a note, adding that the time savings will allow it to more effectively process long-pending petitions, “which we have currently been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions.”

The big question now, it seems, is whether the Trump administration will attempt sweeping reforms to the H-1B program, rather than these piecemeal and limited-duration actions. Although a number of U.S. Representatives have pushed bills to revamp H-1B visas, Trump has (so far) prioritized healthcare reform, a travel ban, and other measures. In the meantime, this year’s H-1B application looks pretty much the same as last year’s.

6 Responses to “New Memo Hints at Tighter H-1B Standards”

  1. H1Bullsh1t

    America and its economy were here long before the Indians infiltrated it and took over Silicon Valley, and it will be around long after they leave. Send them back to their own country and let them build their own Silicon Valley there and hire their own kind (like they discriminate and do here in the U.S. anyway).

    By keeping H1B as is, you are only infuriating and dividing American workers and pitting them against those they see as foreign invaders and oppurtunists (not really competition as they initially already have a huge unfair advantage through cheap labor, limited to no benefits needed, and nepotism from their own kind already in management), and soon animosities will boil over just as they have done throughout history when a group comes to foreign soil and ends up getting better treatment than those who are citizens (presently what we are seeing with hate groups surfacing to combat the refugee and immigrant influx in many Western countries).

    As always though, politicians will wait until that last minute and by then it will be too late as citizens will take action through boycott or as earlier mentioned violence. It will happen as it has happened throughout history, heck it’s happening now.

  2. Worst than anything, their English is poor and Americans end up training them. I don’t want to live in a 2 bedroom apt with 12 people from India, to compete. And ALL recruiters that call me are Indian. American IT does not need these corporate cheaters taking over the US IT sector.

  3. MemoIsJustaJoke

    Sometimes Indians speak English as their third or forth language. How do expect them to speak fluent English. H1s are given for 3 years. Now who would learn a new language for 3 years. H1s are for high skilled workers, there is no clause for English.
    Americans end up training them? Its another joke. Compare growing up in US as compared to India. Indian student study for hours to learn programming and maths on daily basis.

    Anyways this memo is useless. Stricter checks for candidates skills were already in place and were evaluated during visa interviews. The only, important take away from this memo is, to reject candidates based on their application position name. Applicants can just change their position names from next year. Does this really solves the problem???

  4. I have to say I need help NOW. My job is in peril.
    CALL the White House comment line – 1-202-456-1111.
    Look at the WH website – there have been MANY petitions to increase the number of H1b visas, submitted mainly by groups from India.
    We need to make our voices heard.
    CALL your congressman and senators, too.

  5. H1b petitions filed as future employment.
    The cap might filled already
    How many were filed by Consulting Companies
    Who are their clients waiting for them to on board in future
    If Consulting company financially good, No onsite investigation happens
    When our past president elected first time, same show off happened.

    After lobbying etc, things will be same as before.
    H1 and F 1 (fraud) will continue to grow together similar to other corruption going in US.