Eternity can wait. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump vowed to completely revamp the oft-criticized visa program that attracts highly skilled workers to Silicon Valley, promising to “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program” by raising the wage requirement and hiring Americans. Yet this morning applications started for next year’s round of H-1B visas—and the process looks quite similar to that of previous years.
While Trump’s rhetoric has been tough on visa reform, he has only announced one procedural shift. This change, announced last month, was to temporarily suspend premium processing—which expedites an application for an additional fee. This means that visa decisions are likely going to take much longer this year, making the process more anxiety-inducing for foreign applicants. For many, this seemed like an odd move since premium processing is generally considered to be one of the more efficient mechanisms the U.S. government has for visas.
The program will also be subject to greater oversight—with immigration officials planning to increase their “site visits” in order to “determine whether H-1B dependent employers are evading their obligation to make a good faith effort to recruit U.S. workers,” reports Recode. And the Justice Department’s Tom Wheeler, acting assistant attorney general of its civil rights division, chimed in with his own tough words: “The Justice Department will not tolerate employers misusing the H-1B visa process to discriminate against U.S. workers.”
And the administration shot down the tech industry’s push to raise the 85,000 cap on the annual number of visas. Several Republican lawmakers have proposed legislation to reform the program but it’s uncertain if those efforts will be successful given the complexity of the issue and the lack of clarity over the impact of the visas.
Is it really a vehicle for cheap labor?
And a new study undercuts one of Trump’s main arguments for H-1B visa reform—that it supposedly allowed employers to pay foreign workers less than what American workers would demand for the same jobs. He said last year that visa reform was one of his top priorities and that the visa program abuses “[undercuts] the American worker.”
Glassdoor analyzed the salaries that were reported in 2016 H-1B visa applications and crosschecked them with similar roles and salaries posted on the site. “Salaries for foreign H1B workers are about 2.8 percent higher than comparable U.S. salaries on Glassdoor,” the company found. While the data showed that on average visa holders earned more—in roles such as project manager, professor, and program manager—there were a few examples where they actually earned less. These roles included data scientist, financial analyst, and software engineer.
While there haven’t been dramatic changes so far to this year’s H-1B visa process, that doesn’t mean we won’t see be seeing some major shifts in the coming years. Last year, the visa was so popular that it saw a record 236,000 applications within weeks for the 85,000 spots available. Amid Trump’s tough executive orders restricting immigration from certain countries and anti-immigration rhetoric, it remains to be seen whether that many skilled foreign workers will still be interested in the program and how such a possible drop-off could impact the American economy.
This story has been updated.