Lawmakers Seek H-1B Visa Changes with Immigration Overhaul

Senate and House lawmakers; with support from major tech companies, seek to revise rules around H-1B visa requirements along with other changes around immigration laws. The proposals, which include raising minimum salary requirements for the visa holders, dovetail President Donald Trump’s directive to federal agencies instructing them to award the coveted visas only to the “most skilled and highest paid” applicants.

California Republican Darrell Issa, a sponsor of H.R. 170, aims to give U.S. technology companies an edge in securing “visas for their employees to work in the country by reducing the number of applications from Indian technology firms,” according to a Bloomberg report. By narrowing the field of eligible applicants, Issa intends to stem the high demand for H-1B visas disproportionately issued for lower-paying employers that submit the applications at a higher rate.

Currently, the 85,000 H-1B visas available annually through a lottery system require participating employers to meet an annual salary threshold of $60,000. Under Rep. Issa’s proposal, the minimum salary threshold increases to $90,000.   

“All of the high-tech companies complain that if they were allowed to compete on a true lottery or based on price, that they would get more of the slots,” Issa said.

The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously in November and the full House is expected to consider the visa measure within the context of legislation around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which ends in March.

In the Senate, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch introduced a similar bill several years ago but hasn’t yet gained traction. The Sen. Hatch proposal calls for higher wages for H-1B workers as well as an increase in the number of H-1B visas available. The senator hopes to attach the bill to DACA legislation.

If lawmakers don’t address H-1B legislation early this year, the matter will likely fall by the wayside as representatives shy away from the legislative action when elections draw near, says Scott Corley, executive director of Compete America. Compete America acts as a coalition of company and trade associations on immigration. The group supports the Issa and Hatch proposals.

Tech companies on board with the proposed changes include Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Oracle Corp.