If you’re living in America, or are overseas paying attention to the chaos that is current American politics, you’ve probably heard the term H-1B thrown around. And if you’re the owner of a startup, wondering if you can still hire an H-1B visa holder, the answer is yes.
So, what does it all mean? Let me try to easily break things down for you. I say “try” pretty loosely because it is sort of a doozie.
At it’s core, H-1B is a non-immigrant visa program that allows U.S. employers to hire skilled foreign workers temporarily. According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), application requirements are as follows:
1. You must have an employer-employee relationship with the petitioning US employer
2. Your job must qualify as a specialty occupation by proving that having a Bachelor’s degree or higher is a minimum requirement, or that the position requires such a specialized and complex knowledge base that it could be associated with the attainment of Bachelor’s degree or higher
3. Your job must be in a specialty occupation related to your field of study
4. You must be paid at least the actual or prevailing wage for your occupation, whichever is higher
5. An H-1B visa number must be available at the time of filing the petition, unless the petition is exempt from numerical limits. (Only 85,000 are available per fiscal year)
What most people don’t understand about this particular visa, from an employer standpoint, is that if a prospective employee already has it, they can legally work in the U.S. (Hooray!)
The reason it’s been such a hot topic as of late is because our current presidential administration is trying to reform the program to encourage companies to employ more American citizens. As the program stands, opponents say that it hurts American workers and undercuts salaries. On the other hand, tech giants in Silicon Valley view proposed reform as an act of war since H-1B was designed to provide a way for them to hire skilled immigrants without displacing workers here in America. Since STEM education has been lacking in the U.S., our tech industry has been fairly dependent on foreign- born STEM workers. According to a report by the Department of Homeland Security, 70% of H-1B visas during the 2014 fiscal year went to Indian workers. But if STEM jobs are truly growing faster than any other U.S. sector, with an estimated size of 8.6 million for the workforce by 2018, what impact would reform do to this booming industry?
What’s About to Change for H-1B visa holders and employers?
Ultimately nothing is set in stone but there is much speculation on what changes will be made. Will there be a new annual cap? Will there be a change in how visas are allocated? Will there be a doubling of the minimum wage requirement to $130,000 annually? With so much up in the air only one thing that is certain, any new rules for 2017 must be in place prior to the application deadline. And since it is now the final week of March and the deadline is the first week of April, things aren’t looking too promising on “fast reform.” So for now at least, H-1B will remain as we know it, but get ready…change is coming.