New York : The US government has announced new regulations to give greater preference to workers with advanced degrees from US institutions for H-1B non-immigrant professional visas.
The new rules that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on Wednesday will go into effect on April 1 and could potentially reduce the visas available to candidates educated elsewhere.
The DHS said in a statement that it was estimated that the new regulations will lead to 5,340 – or 16 per cent – more H-1B visas for workers with a Master’s or Ph.D degrees from US institutions.
Explaining the new rules, Doug Rand, an independent immigration expert, said now all applicants will first be put into the same pool and 65,000 will be selected for the visas open to all, then all the unselected US advanced degree-holders would be moved into the pool reserved for them and 20,000 of them will be randomly picked.
This would give US-educated professionals who did not get selected in the first round another chance at getting the highly-coveted visas.
Congress set the limit of 65,000 H-1B visas every year and the additional quota of 20,000 for professionals with higher education qualifications from the US.
Since there are far more applicants than there are H1-B visa slots, the government holds a lottery to pick the candidates for the visas.
Francis Cissna, the Director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) said the new procedure would further President Donald Trump’s “goal of improving our immigration system”.
“As a result, US employers seeking to employ foreign workers with a US Master’s or higher degree will have a greater chance of selection in the H-1B lottery,” he added.
The DHS linked the changes to Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order. It said the order specifically mentioned the H-1B programme and directed agencies to “suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries”.
The new regulations were being implemented rapidly in less than two months of the initial proposal in December. “Trust me, that’s warp speed for a government agency,” said Rand, who had worked in former President Barack Obama’s White House on immigration policy.
“This is the first regulation affecting the legal immigration system that the Trump administration has moved all the way through the regulatory process, from start to finish – and there are many more in the pipeline, such as eliminating work permits for spouses of H-1B workers,” said Rand, who is the co-founder of Boundless Immigration, a technology company that helps families navigate the immigration process.
Earlier this month, Trump said he will change the H-1B visa system for professionals to ensure “certainty” and a path to citizenship for them.
He tweeted: “H-1B holders in the US can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship. We want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the US.”
However, there had been no concrete proposals from him or the government for implementing those assurances.
Indians are the biggest beneficiaries of the H-1B visas and 76 per cent of them in 2017, according to government statistics.
According to a recent report by the State Department and the Institute of International Education, 95,651 Indians are now studying for advanced degrees in the US and 75,390 are in practical training programmes after graduation.
(Arul Louis can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @arulouis)