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All Smoke, No Fire? Trump Officials Threaten Changes In Work Visas For Foreigners

All Smoke, No Fire? Trump Officials Threaten Changes In Work Visas For Foreigners

Vowing to make good on a threat that has worried tech firms, the Trump administration has announced steps to make it tougher for foreigners with “computer-related” skills to find work in the United States, rescinding the current, more liberal rules.

But the moves still fall short of the president’s vow to eliminate a global lottery for American tech jobs.

The rules governing the federal “H1B” visa classification, a temporary work permit that can last a maximum of six years, were outlined in a memo released quietly late last week, but the impact is only now being debated. The rules supplant a memo issued in 2000 that granted greater leeway to the definition of “computer programmer.”

“As such, it is improper to conclude based on this information that USCIS would 'generally consider the position of programmer to qualify as a specialty occupation,”' said the memo, which was issued U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The new guidelines came just as the lottery opened Monday 2018 H1B visas, which are capped at 85,000.

Homeland Security Announces Crackdown On Visa Fraud

Trump has repeatedly emphasized his desire for U.S. companies to hire American workers, but companies can have a difficult time finding qualified American workers with experience and skills in specialized science and technology fields.

Next year’s lottery opened on the same day that Homeland Security announced steps to prevent “fraud and abuse” of the H1B visa system. A White House official said Trump may still do more on the program. Trump had promised to end the lottery altogether.

Also on Monday, the Justice Department threatened employers who used the H1B program at the expense of qualified American workers. "The Justice Department will not tolerate employers misusing the H-1B visa process to discriminate against US workers," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Civil Rights Division.

The flurry of headlines about the memo may not really reflect its actual impact, said Peter Cohn, an analyst for Height Special Situations. He said the memo is 're-stating existing law as it was mostly interpreted over the past decade.”

He said the memo released last week was meant to replace “the looser interpretation in the 2000 memo," adding that former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama “both tried to enforce” the visa program more strictly than the guidelines laid out in the earlier memo.

“The new memo just rescinds the 2000 memo from the official record, to ensure that none of the service centers rely on its interpretation going forward,” he told Benzinga. “On the other initiatives, time will tell how aggressive Trump is vs. his predecessors on enforcement of site visits and citizenship fraud, but again the point is there is no actual policy change there. The statements yesterday do not change the legal basis for how the H1B program operates to resolve the concerns of critics.”

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