Google CEO sundar pichai at rally at Googleplex "the fight will continue" pic.twitter.com/cZOfn9FiGY— Daisuke Wakabayashi (@daiwaka) January 30, 2017
A policy guideline from the year 2000 that treats programmers with just a bachelor's degree as specialists eligible for work visas has been reversed by immigration officials under President Trump. But as foreign workers began to apply for visas yesterday, the significance of the change isn't clear, and could be more bark than bite.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a memorandum on Friday declaring "a more targeted approach” to issuing H-1B visas, non-immigrant visas conferred for temporary work in specialty occupations. The change: Workers or employers now must provide additional information as to what makes technology jobs complex or specialized if they don't require professional degrees beyond a bachelor's degree, CNet explains.
"Too many American workers who are as qualified, willing and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged," the immigration agency said in a statement obtained by the Chronicle. “Protecting American workers by combatting fraud in our employment-based immigration programs is a priority.” To "deter and detect H-1B visa fraud and abuse," immigration officials say they'll continue their policy of "random and unannounced" visits to H-1B-dependent companies.
Such statements have been interpreted as threats, but just how seriously should workers and employers take them? Not very, claims Wired. "People are creating news stories at this moment saying, ‘They’re toughening up H-1B.’ Malarkey!” Bruce Morrison, a former Democratic member of Congress and a current H-1B critic who lobbies for IT workers, tells the magazine. "It just provides an opportunity to say they’re doing something when nothing is being done."
The website Axios was one news source quick to interpret the policy change as "Computer programmers may no longer be eligible for H-1B visas." Axios walked that back with an update from a USCI spokesperson clarifying that the alteration was "not a policy change."
Meanwhile, horror stories — perhaps entirely fictional — have proliferated swiftly: Kaz Nejatian, CEO of the financial technology company Kash, fanned the flames with a tweet alleging raids were happening or soon to happen in Silicon Valley. He later hedged that remark.
Just to be clear: I'm not a reporter. Trust a reporter on this. It's possible this is just isolated and totally accidental.— Kaz Nejatian (@CanadaKaz) April 3, 2017
As immigration attorney Greg Siskind tells the Chronicle, what happens from here with visa applicants is up to the agency's discretion. "Depending on how [the agency] decides to adjudicate, they could deny a whole bunch of H-1Bs, even though people have a bachelor’s degree,” he said.
But for now, according to Wired, "Silicon Valley leaders fearful of Trump’s approach to tech can save their outrage for another day."