In a move unlikely to stun anyone who follows immigration-related issues, the Biden administration has declined to renew President Donald Trump’s ban on H-1Bs and other guest worker visas.
A note posted on the U.S. State Department’s website suggested that visa applicants “who have not yet been interviewed or scheduled for an interview will have their applications prioritized and processed in accordance with existing phased resumption of visa services guidance.” Meanwhile, applicants who were refused visas due to the ban “may reapply by submitting a new application including a new fee.”
In January 2020, as his term came to a close, President Trump extended his ban on what his administration termed “immigrants who present a risk to the United States labor market,” including those who rely on the H-1B visa. Although that extension was set to expire on March 31, the Biden administration gave precious little indication about what it intended to do about it (until now, that is).
Indeed, the Biden administration’s initial approach to the thorny H-1B issue was potentially confusing for many. Although the White House issued no guidance about whether or not it intended to extend Trump’s ban, registration for the H-1B visa lotter for fiscal year 2022 still kicked off on March 9 and ran through the end of the month.
It remains to be seen how Biden might try to reform the H-1B system, although his U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 would prioritize visas based on wages, and give both the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Labor the ability to determine the appropriate wage levels. Should that legislation pass, it would represent a seismic shift from the current H-1B lottery, which is based on random selection.
An H-1B system organized around high wages would undermine the business model of consulting and outsourcing firms, which generally pay H-1B workers lower average salaries than technology companies. For years, critics have argued that the current H-1B lottery allows companies to import cheaper labor. When the Trump administration first proposed this new method of allocating visas in 2020, a note from the Department of Homeland Security explained: “This new selection process would incentivize employers to offer higher wages or petition for positions requiring higher skills and higher-skilled workers instead of using the program to fill relatively lower-paid vacancies.”
What the Biden administration will ultimately do seems undetermined at this point, but tech companies that opposed Trump’s ban (of which there were many, including giants such as Apple and Google) are no doubt happy to see it gone.