Trump administration hikes wages for H-1B, foreign worker programs

Claims step taken to protect American workers and prevent abuses.

Just one week before its exit, the Trump administration has issued new rules hiking the prevailing wages for those working in the US on H-1B visas or holding employment-based green cards

High-skilled Indian professionals get about two thirds of 85,000 H-1B visas issued every year. According to USCIS data there were over 580,000 H-1B visa holders as of September 2019.

Announcing a Final Rule, the US Department of Labor Tuesday said the reform was aimed “to help protect the wages and job opportunities of American workers” and “prevent potential abuses of its Permanent Employment Certification, H-1B, H-1B1 and E-3 Visa foreign worker programs.”

H-1B1 is a variation of the H-1B program for nationals of Chile and Singapore. E-3 Visa is only for speciality occupation workers from Australia.

The step, it said, had been taken after an extensive review of the public comments received on an Interim Final Rule published by the Department on Oct. 8.

READ: Trump administration sued over H-1B wage hike (October 17, 2020)

The Final Rule will improve the accuracy of prevailing wages paid to foreign workers by bringing them in line with the wages paid to similarly employed US workers, the announcement said.

This will ensure the Department more effectively protects the job opportunities and wages of American workers by removing the economic incentive to hire foreign workers on a permanent or temporary basis in the US over American workers.

When seeking H-1B, H-1B1 or E-3 visas for workers, US employers must attest that they will pay nonimmigrant workers, during the period of authorized employment, the higher of the prevailing wage or the actual wage paid to other employees with similar experience and qualifications, the announcement said.

Similarly, when an employer seeks to hire an immigrant under an EB-2 or EB-3 classification, the employer must recruit US workers for the position using a prevailing wage issued by the Department. They must also attest that they will pay foreign workers the prevailing wage.

READ: 17 US institutions challenge H-1B visa wage hike (October 20, 2020)

The prevailing wage rates in these programs serve to protect US workers from unfair competition posed by the entry of lower cost foreign labor into the US labor market, the announcement said.

Using the Department’s methodology in calculating the prevailing wage rates to reflect accurately the wages that US workers who perform the same kinds of jobs and possess similar qualifications, ensures that the use of these programs will not adversely affect the wages and job opportunities of American workers, it said.

“The US Department of Labor is taking these steps to strengthen wage protections, address abuses in visa programs, and protect American workers from being undercut by cheaper foreign labor,” said US Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia.

“These changes help ensure that these important foreign worker programs function as Congress intended, while securing American workers’ opportunities for stable, good-paying jobs.”

“In response to the comments we received, the Department has adjusted the wages levels used in the Interim Final Rule to better reflect market wages and included provisions to smooth the transition to the new wage levels,” he added.

The new Final rule is set to take effect within 60 days of publication in the federal register Wednesday unless the incoming Biden administration puts it on hold.

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