Action on immigration reform has taken on new urgency in recent months due in part by the enormous backlog of foreign workers seeking H-1B visas for specialty occupations. In late December, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a 181-page proposal of new rules that increase the maximum period of time that a worker can stay in the U.S. on an H-1B visa. Those rules would also allow visa workers to change jobs without losing their spot in line for a green card.
The U.S. Senate has also shown some interest in making fixes to the H-1B visa program. Last November, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced bipartisan legislation that would introduce stricter provisions on how companies are able to use H-1B visas. In late February, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing where the H-1B visa program came under fire for cases of alleged abuse by employers and how the visa program has been used to lay off American workers.
In the current presidential election cycle, the H-1B visa has been the subject of discussion among candidates for the U.S. presidency on both sides of the political spectrum.
On the Republican side, front-runner Donald Trump, whose inability to be stopped by his own rhetoric has proven to be a hallmark of his campaign, has said himself that he is “changing” on this issue, at least where skilled talent is concerned. The 2016 race’s most strident voice on the immigration debate had odd encounter with a reasoned approach to a policy topic in early March, citing a need to have “talented people” in America. And yet, a week after those statements, Trump was quoted in a Republican debate as having said that he shouldn’t have been allowed to use the H-1B program as a businessman because of its effects on American workers. The immigration reform website on Trump’s official campaign page, which still calls for a wall along the country’s southern border, supports an increased prevailing wage for H-1B workers and an explicit requirement to hire Americans first. Thus, as with other issues, Trump has been on both sides of the H-1B visa issue, which makes it difficult to know what he really believes and what policy might become during a Trump Administration.
Meanwhile, the campaign website of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) lays out a number of immigration reform measures that would affect the H-1B program. Cruz supports a 180-day suspension of all H-1B visa issuances to audit abuse allegations as well as advanced degree requirements and a “layoff cool-off” period that would prohibit a company from laying off a worker within a year or two of using the visa program. Interestingly, these stricter measures regarding the H-1B visa don’t reflect Cruz’s stance on the subject from just several years ago. Back in 2013, when he supported an amendment to an immigration bill to increase annual H-1B visa permits five-fold to 325,000 with increased fees for companies in some cases. This bill wasn’t passed by the House. Perhaps Cruz’s position has evolved, perhaps it has changed, your view largely will depend on whether you support Senator Cruz or whether you support some other candidate.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, the other remaining Republican candidate, does not have any information about immigration on his campaign website, and nothing we can find relating to the H-1B visa program. Kasich seems to be staking his long-shot bid for the White House around fiscal responsibility, growing the economy, balancing the budget, and being a moderate alternative to Trump and Kasich.
On the Democratic side, the debate is quieter and falls much more easily within identifiable party lines. H-1B visas aren’t mentioned in Hillary Clinton’s official campaign site, but she is quoted in a 2007 speech in India where she supported an increased H-1B visa cap. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has called for a substantial prevailing wage increase for H-1B workers. The immigration reform page on Sanders’ official campaign site also calls for ending the “economic exploitation of immigrant workers,” noting that workers should not be bound to a certain employer and that their family members should also be allowed to work.