Changes to US Temporary Workers Program Scrutinized

The Trump administration’s move to curb temporary foreign workers in the United States weeks before the Nov. 3 election shines a spotlight on a much-debated portion of the nation’s labor supply that some lawmakers have sought to reform for a decade or more.At stake are H-1B visas that allow employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty fields. Rules issued earlier this month by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) restrict Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa proposes a series of bipartisan bills on H-1B visas dating back to 2007.Durbin concurred, saying, “Reforming the H-1B and L-1 visa programs is a critical component of fixing our broken immigration system.”But Durbin criticized last week’s DHS and DOL rules as a poor substitute for comprehensive legislation, tweeting, “This last-minute step is a ploy to cover up for the President’s broken promise to stop H-1B abuse.”Bottom lines and profitsDaniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, said America benefits from skilled foreign workers but reforms are needed.“You can legally bring in a worker for less than what the going rate is for a worker in that area, Costa said. “Companies are going to do what’s best for their bottom line and their profits.”Costa co-authored a recent report showing 60% of H-1B positions certified by DOL are “assigned wage levels well below the local median wage for the occupation,” adding that passing legislation is the “easiest and simplest solution” to reform the temporary foreign workers program.“But the way this is being done, and at the last minute, just seems like it’s politically driven,” Costa said.Potential legal challengesSpeaking with Bloomberg Law, Cornell University immigration law professor Stephen Yale-Loehr said it remains to be seen “whether the DOL can make such a large change (to the H-1B visa program) through the rule-making process” and whether the rules “pass legal muster.”“There’s going to be lots of lawsuits coming very soon,” Costa said. “Companies that want to hire H-1B’s are not going to get the big wage savings that they’ve gotten before. And then the use of the H-1B program by the outsourcing companies is probably going to be reduced. And this is all assuming the regulations don’t get enjoined (halted by a court).”  

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