Facebook vulnerable to expected changes in key visa program

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By Stephen Nellis and Mica Rosenberg | SAN FRANCISCO/ WASHINGTON

SAN FRANCISCO/ WASHINGTON Among Silicon Valley’s
top tech employers, Facebook Inc could be the most
vulnerable to U.S. President Donald Trump’s expected crackdown
on guest-worker visas, according to a Reuters analysis of U.S.
Labor Department filings.

More than 15 percent of Facebook’s U.S. employees in 2016
used a temporary work visa, giving the social media leader a
legal classification as a H-1B “dependent” company. That is a
higher proportion than Alphabet Inc’s Google, Apple
Inc, Amazon.com Inc or Microsoft Corp
.

That could cause problems for Facebook if Trump or Congress
decide to make the H-1B program more restrictive, as the
president and some Republican lawmakers have threatened to do.

Both Trump and Attorney General nominee Senator Jeff
Sessions have opposed the program in its current form. They have
also indicated that they are open to reforming it to “ensure the
beneficiaries of the program are the best and the brightest,”
according to a draft executive order seen by Reuters. Reuters
could not immediately confirm the authenticity of the draft.

The Trump administration has not proposed any new rules that
would target companies with the H-1B “dependent” classification.
But the fact that Facebook alone among major tech companies
falls into that category suggests it is the most exposed in the
industry to any changes in H-1B visa policy.

Facebook declined to comment on the matter.

Trump administration officials could not immediately be
reached for comment. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer
said on Monday that Trump would target H-1B visas as part of a
larger immigration reform effort through executive orders and
Congressional action, but gave no details.

H-1B visas are intended for foreign nationals in “specialty”
occupations that generally require higher education, which
according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
includes, but is not limited to, scientists, engineers or
computer programmers. The government awards 85,000 every year,
chiefly through a lottery system.

Companies say they use them to recruit top talent. But a
majority of the visas are awarded to outsourcing firms, sparking
criticism by skeptics that those firms use the visas to fill
lower-level information technology jobs. Critics also say the
lottery system benefits outsourcing firms that flood the system
with mass applications.

H-1B dependent status is mostly held by these outsourcing
firms such as India’s Tata Consultancy Services or Infosys. The
status was introduced in the late 1990s in an effort to ensure
that companies did not use the visas to replace American workers
with cheaper foreign labor. The status requires companies to
prove they cannot find U.S. workers for the jobs.

Facebook listed itself as a dependent company in its
applications for H-1B visas with the Labor Department last year.

Before he took office as president, Trump discussed changes
to the H-1B visa program with top technology executives,
including Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Those changes included possibly ending the lottery and
replacing it with a system that would award the visas to the
highest-paying jobs first, a move designed to reduce their
issuance to outsourcing firms.

Such a move could soften the blow from any H-1B changes for
Facebook and other major technology companies. The average
salary offered for Facebook H-1B jobs was $145,550, according to
its application filings last year. Tata, a traditional
outsourcing firm, offered $67,950 on average, barely above the
$60,000 floor set by law for the H-1B program.

The draft executive order did not mention specifics about
the lottery. It did require the U.S. secretary of labor to
provide the president with a report on “the actual or potential
injury to U.S. workers caused, directly or indirectly, by work
performed by nonimmigrant workers in the H-1B” visa program.

“We are hoping that the final draft will have more details,”
said Russell Harrison, director of government relations at
IEEE-USA, a group that represents U.S. engineers and favors that H-1B reform.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington, D.C.)



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