H-1B visa pay boost: Historic win for foreign workers or ‘mess’ doomed to fail?

Critics of the controversial H-1B foreign-worker program are applauding a new Trump Administration rule significantly boosting required pay, but a Bay Area member of Congress says the change is an unworkable mess and won’t survive a legal challenge.

Under the rule issued and effective last week, H-1B workers in jobs at the lowest of four skills levels must receive at least 45% of the prevailing wage for their job type and location. Previously, they could be paid 17%. Under the new rule, the higher the skills level, the closer the pay must get to the prevailing wage. Workers at the highest skills level must be paid at least 95% of the prevailing wage, up from 67%.

The pay boost is the first substantive reform in the visa program’s 30-year history, said Ron Hira, a Howard University professor whose H-1B research was cited in the government’s rule-making.

“If you had to ask for one single change that would be the most important one to change it would be the wages because you want to take away the incentive to hire people because they’re cheaper,” Hira said.

The administration of President Donald Trump has cracked down on the H-1B program, dramatically increasing visa denials for staffing companies and outsourcers that contract out foreign workers. Critics have argued that these companies and their client firms use the H-1B to supplant U.S. workers, drive down wages and send work overseas.

Supporters, including Silicon Valley’s technology giants, contend that the program should be expanded to ensure access to the world’s top talent, and that the administration’s crackdown is pushing skilled foreign workers toward more welcoming nations such as Canada. That country’s government has sought — successfully, say critics of Trump administration immigration policy — to lure skilled workers away from Silicon Valley. The Bay Area Council has called the recent changes that included the wage hike a “gift” to Canada.

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Silicon Valley Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat who has sponsored bills to increase wages for H-1B workers, said pay increases such as those required in the new rule are necessary, but the administration’s rushed approach is doomed to fail. “It’s going to be struck down because it didn’t follow the rules and also it’s a mess,” Lofgren said. “It’s all about the re-election, it’s not about the policy. They don’t care whether this gets into effect or not. They just wanted a bumper sticker.”

The U.S. Department of Labor, in a document explaining the wage change, noted that the previous minimum pay levels had been in place for 20 years. The old wage levels suppressed U.S. workers’ pay, the department asserted, adding that it expects the new wages “will induce some employers to employ U.S. workers instead of foreign workers from the H-1B program.”

The National Foundation for American Policy, which supports expanding the H-1B program’s current 85,000 cap on new visas, said its calculations showed that for computer-related jobs in Silicon Valley, minimum required pay will go up by about 35% to 40% across all skill …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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