What Does The Introduced H-1B Visa Bill Do To International Students?

9:28 PM

I saw "H1B Visa" trending on Facebook.

I expected that there will be changes that will impact immigrants or intending immigrants with the new administration. I had subconsciously braced myself for a lot of things, so it didn't come as a shock when I saw "H1B Visa" trending. There will be other changes, so instead of being afraid, the wise thing to do is arm yourself with information.

I searched for "The High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017" and there it was. Fun fact: this was my first time reading a US bill

This posts is not based on hearsay and blog posts or news, I actually read the bill summary and analysis. These are ways international students intending to use the H-1B path, could be impacted. Emphasis on the word 'could'; this bill has not been passed into law. It may not be passed at all or could be significantly changed before being passed and signed into the law.

So the elephant in the room: How does it affect US -international students?

a) Everyone has a fair chance for immigration-based visas.

This is actually good news for a lot of people. Currently there are caps on employment-based immigrant visa availability, based on the country of origin of the intending immigrant. The new law would change that, giving everyone a fair chance during application and the same visa availability date regardless of your country of origin. It doesn't stop there; it also increases the current cap per country for family-sponsored immigrant visas, which is equally AWESOME!

b) It would be harder to get jobs with H-1B dependent employers in computer and mathematical occupations (e.g IT companies).

The new bill removes the "masters degree exemption" and doubles the "wage exemption" from $60,000 to $130,000 for H-1B dependent employers. There are a lot of immigration jargons there, so let's break it down.

Firstly, H-1B dependent employers are companies/institutions/organizations that have more than 15% of their workforce on H-1B status. To hire anyone on H-1B status, an employer has to attest and provide necessary documentation to show that they are not displacing available and qualified US citizens from that job by hiring a foreigner on H-1B status. Exemption from this attestation was granted when employees were paid $60,000 or higher, or had a Master's degree or higher. 

The new bill will change current policies by only granting exemption when the intended H-1B applicant will be paid $130,000 or higher. This does not mean you can't be hired by H-1B dependent companies, but if your salary is not as high as that, they might not want to go through the process of attestation or might not be able to prove sufficiently, that you are not displacing a US citizen from that job.

There was nothing in the bill stipulating the same procedures for employers that are not H-1B dependent; i.e less than 15% of their workforce are on H-1B status. You might want to check or ask about the H-1B dependent status of companies before you apply for jobs.

c) The increase in prevailing wage requirement may reduce the number of companies willing or able to hire on H-1B status.

The new bill has increased the prevailing wage requirement for employees on H-1B status. The law requires employees on H-1B to be paid the prevailing wage or higher. Prevailing wage rate is the average wage paid to similarly employed workers in a specific occupation or area of intended employment. There is a formula currently used to make this determination. The new bill changes the formula, increasing what the prevailing wage will be for any occupation.This could be significantly higher than what a company is willing or able to pay for that position.

 For example, if a company pays civil engineers with a Bachelors degree $55,000 and the prevailing wage is $65,000 for that profession. A company will only be allowed to file for H-1B status, if they pay the applicant $65,000. This might also mean, that the company will need to increase the salary of all their Bachelor degree holding civil engineers to $65,000 because of that applicant.

With the new bill, the calculation of the prevailing wage will be higher than what it is today. For example, instead of $65,000, the new prevailing wage rate may be $75,000, for the same occupation. 

Note: these numbers are estimated to explain the point; they do not accurately reflect the salaries of civil engineers.

d) H-1B visas will be market-based.

The new bill will prioritize H-1B visa allocation based on how high above the prevailing wage that employers are willing to pay. Employers paying as high as 200% over the prevailing wage will get first dibs, followed by those paying 150% above the prevailing wage. So, even if you find an employer who offers you a job, you are competing with other applicants who would be paid more, for a H-1B visa.

e) You can still apply to small and start-up companies.

This is actually exciting. As much as 20% of annually allocated H-1B visas will be for companies with 50 or fewer employees. They will still need to show that they are not displacing qualified US citizens but they won't be swept up in the market tussle. So, you can still seek out start-ups to work with.

f) There will be a bridge for F1 student status to Lawful Permanent Residence

I was so excited for this one! There will be "dual intent" for students and some other listed temporary visas. Consular officers wont deny F1 visas or the other listed visas based on intent to immigrate to the US. Furthermore, if you apply for employment-based immigration and your petition is approved but your visa availability date has not reached, you would be given employment and travel authorization. This means, you can start working and go in and out of the country as you please.

There are other things in the bill, but these are the parts that affect international students and intending H-1B applicants directly. Like I said earlier, this is still a bill and has not been passed yet. But if it passes exactly how it is now, what will it mean in summary?

1) You can still work towards getting a job and going on H-1B status. It is just going to be harder to either get a company to hire you or actually get the H-1B visa.

2) If you find that you don't qualify based on the new rules or you can't find companies who are willing to hire you or you don't get the H-1B visa, GO BACK TO SCHOOL. Yes, if you get a higher degree, you could meet the salary or the attestation requirement. Only a small percentage of US citizens have a degree higher than a Bachelors.

3) Widen your job search to include places outside the US. There are bigger and better opportunities; don't restrict yourself when you start applying for jobs.

Here is the bill, for those interested: The High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017

Ask questions or share your thoughts in the comment section.

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  1. Well this is awesome to get a summarized version of the bill. To all international students out there, just always trust in God to sort you out. This will be a very tempting period but don't fall for it. Remember when one door closes, He will always open another.

    1. Thank you Blessing. You are right, even the bill itself has some parts that would potentially benefit international students aside the strict stipulations on H-1B. Most importantly, God does not leave His own stranded.


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