by DOL Deputy Secretary Patrick Pizzella and DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli
Years ago, news stories began to surface about qualified American workers being forced to train their less-expensive foreign replacements. Those stories seemed too absurd and flat-out un-American to be real, but, in fact, it was happening. In some cases, employees were forced to go through a humiliating process just to receive their severance packages. Stories like these have illustrated in clear terms how America’s H-1B foreign worker visa program was being manipulated to the detriment of American workers. Now, however, the Trump Administration has taken significant action to stop this abuse, ensure America’s businesses have the specialized workers they need, and deliver an economy that serves American workers first.
We start with the premise that the best economic stimulus plan is a fully functioning American economy and vibrant private sector. The Trump Administration’s top priority is helping American workers get back on their feet and back to work. One way we’re doing this is to ensure that American jobs actually go to qualified American workers through new reforms to the H-1B foreign worker visa program announced recently by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These reforms will safeguard American workers against potential adverse consequences associated with the employment of low-wage foreign workers.
With these new reforms, the Trump Administration is ensuring that the programs will work as originally intended. Foreign workers with specialized skills will be allowed to work in the United States to help grow our economy, but we will crack down on abuses like using cheaper foreign labor instead of hiring qualified Americans.
We started by leveling the playing field on wages. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, employers are often required to pay a prevailing wage to foreign workers. After extensive analysis, DOL concluded that prevailing wages have previously been set too low in the H-1B program and the permanent labor certification program, allowing employers, in too many cases, to pay skilled foreign workers far less than similarly skilled American workers. When set properly, the prevailing wage requirements create a competitive market rate attracting more American workers to open positions. It also prevents the suppression and stagnation of wages that occur when American workers are unfairly forced to compete against cheaper foreign labor. This new rule incentivizes hiring Americans, rather than allow for loopholes, particularly as the economy continues to rebuild and flourish in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Of course, with the new wage rates, employers will still be able to hire needed foreign workers who complement and fill specialized openings in the United States workforce. That is, after all, what these visa programs were designed to do. When done properly, they can help our economy thrive.
With its separate new H-1B rule, DHS will also narrow the definition of “specialty occupation” by amending the previous definition that was overly broad and permitted companies to game the system. The rule will require companies to establish a bona fide job offer, with an actual start date, for each H-1B worker requested, rather than using outsourcing firms that are little better than recruiters for low-wage foreign workers. It will also enhance DHS’s ability to enforce compliance through worksite inspections and monitor compliance before, during, and after an H-1B visa is approved.
Reforms are overdue and have only become more necessary due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. With millions of Americans looking for work as the economy continues its recovery, immediate action was needed to better safeguard their wellbeing. With these changes, we will restore integrity to our H-1B foreign worker visa program, to protect American workers from those who would seek to exploit our system, and to create more opportunities for hard-working Americans.
The Trump Administration is committed to fostering conditions that allow American workers to thrive. It is never acceptable to force Americans who are working hard to provide for their families to be forced to compete with cheap foreign labor for a job, especially in our own country. Our duty is to serve the American people—and these new reforms do exactly that by relentlessly pursuing an economy that supports American workers.
– – –
Patrick Pizella is the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Labor and Ken Cuccinelli is the Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security