Various news sources have been reporting on certain changes that may be coming to the H-1B program under the new Trump administration.
First, there is a draft copy of an Executive Order titled, “Protecting American Jobs and Workers by Strengthening the Integrity of Foreign Worker Visa Programs.” The draft contains several “orders” directing governmental agencies to propose and develop regulations pertaining to foreign nationals working in the United States. The draft that is currently available does not contain any concrete ideas as to the nature of any proposed or amended regulations. Furthermore, if this Executive Order were to be signed, it would take months for the affected agencies to review, propose and develop such regulations.
Second, several bills seeking amendments to the H-1B program have been introduced in Congress this year. Two such bills purport to increase the minimum salary level of an H-1B worker: one bill would increase it from $60,000 to $100,000 and another bill would increase it to $130,000. All H-1B workers, however, are required to be paid the prevailing wage, which is defined as the average wage paid to similarly employed workers in a specific occupation in the area of intended employment.
The $60,000 salary level refers to the exemption level pertaining to H-1B-dependent employers. H-1B-dependency is defined by the number of H-1B employees in relation to the overall workforce of an employer. For example, an employer that has more than 50 full-time equivalent employees would be considered H-1B dependent if 15 percent of the workforce were are on H-1B visa status. Employers that are H-1B-dependent are obligated to attest that they did not displace U.S. workers from jobs and that they recruited U.S. workers before hiring H-1B nonimmigrants. However, those obligations do not apply when hiring exempt H-1B nonimmigrants. To be “exempt,” an H-1B nonimmigrant must receive annual wages of at least $60,000 or have attained a master’s or higher degree in the specialty related to the intended employment.
Only a small fraction of employers are H-1B dependent. Accordingly, the bills proposing changes to the exemption level of $60,000 would have no impact on the vast majority of employers.
So no meaningful changes are expected to the H-1B program anytime soon. But, of course, it’s only February.