The future of the H-1B specialty worker visa program has been uncertain since the new presidential administration took over in January 2017. The White House formally addressed the program for the first time in an executive order (EO) issued in April. EO 13788 of April 18, 2017, 82 Fed. Reg. 18837 (Apr. 21, 2017). The EO, entitled “Buy American and Hire American,” directs the federal government to purchase products manufactured in the United States and to hire American workers whenever possible. It also directs certain cabinet departments to review immigration regulations, including the H-1B program, and possibly to revise its rules and guidance in order “to protect the interests of United States workers in the administration of our immigration system.” EO 13788 § 5(a), 82 Fed. Reg. 18838. It provides no specific guidelines with regard to the H-1B program, although the language of the EO suggests that the administration does not intend to eliminate the program entirely, as some have feared.
H-1B visas are available to workers in “specialty occupations.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b). This refers to an occupation that requires the “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge,” as well as at least a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent in the relevant field of study. Id. at § 1184(i)(1). Additionally, the intended visa holder must have any and all required licensure for the job, if any, and must have either received the academic degree mentioned earlier or obtained enough on-the-job experience to equal the work required for a degree. Id. at § 1184(i)(2).
Both the employer and the prospective visa holder must meet eligibility criteria before the government will issue an H-1B visa. The employer must obtain a labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Id. at § 1182(n)(1). This requires certifying to the DOL that the employer will pay a wage to the H-1B worker that is comparable to what it would pay to an American worker and provide the same general working conditions. The goal here is to prevent employers from driving down wages and other conditions of employment. The employer must also certify that the H-1B worker will not immediately “displace a United States worker.” Id. at § 1182(n)(1)(E).