U.S. seeks curbs on use of entry-level H-1B programmers

Policy change means H-1B employers will need to show that the job requires specialized skills

H-1B visa airport arrival
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The U.S. government is taking action that will likely increase the visa denial rates of H-1B programmers, a move that could help U.S. nationals, both in terms of wages and jobs.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) wants programmers who offer skills that are specialized or unique. That means firms seeking to hire programmers at entry-level wages may see their H-1B visa requests denied.

There's a reason the U.S. doesn't want entry-level visa workers.

Take for instance, Michigan, a state that President Donald Trump won. The prevailing wage for an entry-level computer programmer in Flint is $38,000, while the mean wage for that occupation in the city is $60,000.

A lot of people hired via the H-1B program are paid low wages relative to U.S. workers. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 54% of all H-1B workers were paid entry-level wages, and 29% were paid the next step up, the level 2. The mean prevailing wage is level 3.

"The changes will have a positive impact," said Victor Janulaitis, CEO of Janco, regarding the USCIS policy guidance for programmers. Janco is a consulting firm that studies the IT labor market.

The majority of people getting the visas "were offshore outsourcers with the primary focus being to reduce costs and eliminate U.S.-based system analysis and programming jobs," said Janulaitis. Companies hired graduates of overseas schools.

The government's change will increase costs for U.S. corporations, "but we will employ more U.S. nationals and have more visas available for foreign nationals who have graduated from U.S. universities -- who will contribute and potentially become U.S. full-time residents," said Janulaitis.

This policy change came in a USCIS memo March 31. It was little surprise to immigration attorneys. The government's scrutiny of visa petitions has been increasing, as have "request for evidence" decisions -- essentially demands for more information from visa applicants.

Andrew Greenfield, managing partner of the Washington office of immigration law firm Fragomen, said the USCIS memo requires an employer to demonstrate that a programmer is being hired for something other than a basic entry job, and that the job requires specialized skills and knowledge.

"One helpful fact to demonstrate that this is not merely an entry-level programming job is to show that you are paying more than an entry-level salary," said Greenfield.

The net effect on employers will be more time and money spent on responding to requests for evidence, "and a higher likelihood of denial of petitions if the employer is unable to demonstrate to USCIS that the computer programming position being offered to the H-1B candidate is not something more than a basic or entry-level programming job," Greenfield said.

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