Every day now you can’t seem to turn around without bumping into someone who wants to change, curtail, or outright eliminate the H-1B visa program.
Last week Senators Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions introduced a bill that would significantly modify the the H-1B visa program by creating a “layoff cool-off period” which would prohibit US employers from obtaining H-1B visas for foreign workers within two years of layoffs, furloughs or employee strikes. The bill would also do away with Optional Practical Training, a program that allows foreign students to work in the U.S. temporarily after completing a degree at a US school, as well as set a $110,000 minimum wage for workers under the H-1B program. Employers would have to pay foreign workers the same as an American worker who did similar work in the past two years or $110,000, whichever is higher.
Senator Sessions was also involved in the introduction of another bill last week, along with Senator Bill Nelson, which would reduce the number of H-1B visas issued annually from 65,000 to 50,000.
It remains to be seen which, of any, of these proposed changes will ever be implemented; however, the fact that we continue to see an ever-increasing number of these types of bills being introduced suggests a long fight ahead for those US employers who use H-1B work visas.
One of the unfortunate consequences of this fights is the possible fallout for US healthcare providers. Most of these proposals cite as the basis for their existence the belief that the H-1B program is being used to replace US workers, especially in technology related industries. This isn’t really a claim that has any validity in the healthcare field, where shortages of qualified workers are widely acknowledged. However, if the overall number of H-1B visas issued is cut due to perceived abuses in other fields, the effect on healthcare employers will be the same, without regard to the reasons for cutting the program.