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Saturday, November 28, 2020

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U.S. Departments of Labor and Homeland Security release new restrictions on work-visa program


Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

National departments have issued a final interim rule on Oct. 6 to protect the wages and opportunities of American workers, placing restrictions on H1-B visa applications that some say will discourage employers in the United States from hiring foreign candidates. 

Also known as specialty occupation visas, these visas typically require the applicant to have at least a bachelor’s degree or higher, or its equivalent. 

The rule will redefine what a specialty occupation is, narrowing it to a job requiring a bachelor’s degree, as well as specifying a direct relationship between the job duties and that candidate’s degree, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

It also targets employers that place workers in third-party sites by limiting the visa validity to one year instead of three and allowing immigration inspections of such sites. Additionally, the rule will increase the prevailing wage requirements for the applicants.

Unless challenged, the rule is expected to go into effect in December.

“It looks like it probably will go into effect unless a federal judge enjoins it,” said UH Law Center Immigration Clinic director Geoffrey Hoffman. 

Usually, when the government issues regulations or rules, they have to go through notice and comment under the Administrative Procedure Act, allowing the public some time to comment on the proposed rule, Hoffman said.

That was not the case for this ruling.

The notice and comment period, a required step of the statute in most cases, was skipped which means the public won’t have time to comment, so it is likely that plaintiffs will try to challenge this ruling in court, according to Hoffman.

The rule can also be attacked as a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act because an agency “cannot do what’s not permitted” under the statute, Hoffman said.

These restrictions are expected to discourage employers from hiring workers from abroad, but the current administration had already been overhauling H-1B visas.

“Under the Trump administration during the last year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has denied nearly a third of H-1B visa requests, versus a six percent denial under former President (Barack) Obama,” Hoffman said. 

A UH international student says that is because it’s difficult to be employed in the U.S., even for internships.

“I always have to go above and beyond, always attending every networking event that’s held, trying to specialize myself as much as possible to have additional knowledge and technical practicality that an American might not have,” said mechanical engineering senior Katherine Sequera.

She says that it has always been challenging prior to the latest restrictions, but more so now the availability of jobs has reduced. 

When getting interviewed for jobs, Sequera says that employers don’t usually understand how the work-visa program works, and recruiters are simply told to “not hire internationals.” 

“Especially to get an internship, I feel like it’s such a taboo because to work as an intern, you are not required to sponsor the worker; it’s simply giving them an opportunity to work during the summer and learn with (the) company,” Sequera said.

Sequera also says she’s been denied job opportunities multiple times because of her immigration status.

Although the new ruling was issued to “protect American workers’ opportunities,” you have fewer opportunities as an international student, Sequera says.

“For international students, it’s always been harder to achieve that an employer hires you because, usually, they try to focus on the American workforce,” Sequera said.

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