The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday proposed new rules that would allow certain high-skilled, foreign workers to remain in the country and more easily switch jobs while waiting to obtain a green card.
DHS said the 181-page proposal is a reaction to the large immigrant visa backlog, which is partially caused by the yearly cap on the number of work visas the United States can legally hand out each year.
“Simply put, many workers in the immigrant visa process are not free to consider all available employment and career development opportunities,” DHS said in the proposed rules.
Comment on the proposal ends at the end of February.
The rules make changes to the H-1B high-skilled temporary visa program, which is touted by many in the technology industry but criticized by others who say it is plagued with abuse.
The proposed rules would also affect certain workers who have been approved for permanent high-priority work visas because of their professional degree or extraordinary ability.
The changes to the H-1B program would allow certain temporary workers who are on track to become permanent residents to stay beyond the 6-year limit of the H-1B program. The changes would also allow those temporary visa holders and certain other foreign workers to more easily change jobs without fear of losing their spot in line for a green card.
The DHS says the current backlog can delay permanent residency for high-skilled workers from a few months to as much as a decade. Because of country-based caps, the delays have hit foreigners from China and India the hardest, where demand is high.
“In many instances, these individuals are in the United States in a nonimmigrant, employer-specific temporary worker category and may be unable to accept promotions or otherwise change jobs or employers without abandoning their existing efforts — including great investments of time and money — to become permanent residents,” according to the agency.
Excluding exceptions, the cap on new H-1B temporary visas is set at 65,000 per year. A minimum of 140,000 new permanent employment-based visas are also allotted each year.
Critics such as John Miano of the Center for Immigration Studies say that the proposed rules would have the effect of essentially handing out thousands of extra green cards a year. He told Breitbart that the Obama administration had gone “Full Monty to bust the immigration system" with the new rules.
Critics already point to abuse in the high-skilled visa program and argue those visas are taking jobs out of the hands of U.S. citizens.