Shared from the 2017-12-15 San Francisco Chronicle eEdition

White House planning new rules for H-1B holders

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James Tensuan / Special to The Chronicle

Karishma Chawla of San Jose, with daughter Naisha, could be affected by plans to rescind a rule that allows spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S.

A newly published list of Trump administration regulatory priorities for the coming year includes several changes to work-based immigration, a major issue for Bay Area technology companies.

The proposals include stopping the issuance of work permits for spouses of H-1B holders. (H-1B visas allow foreign workers with specialized skills to spend three to six years working at a sponsor company in the U.S.)

About 130,000 spouses and children of H-1B visa holders came to the U.S. on H-4 visas last year. President Barack Obama created a work permit last year for H-4 visa holders who have already been approved for their green cards; before that, these foreigners — often women — were not allowed to hold a job here or get a Social Security number.

Losing the H-4 work authorization would impact a number of families in the Bay Area, as Silicon Valley relies heavily on H-1B visa holders to staff technical positions. However, it is unclear if this new proposal would revoke work permits from H-4 visa holders or just stop the issuance of new ones.

The Department of Homeland Security is reviewing the H-4 work authorization in light of President Trump’s Buy American, Hire American executive order. The notice was published Thursday in the Unified Agenda, a semi-annual list of regulations under development by the federal agencies.

The administration plans to propose an official rule in the Federal Register by February, although that timing is subject to change.

Other regulatory proposals published in the Unified Agenda include:

A plan to rescind the International Entrepreneur Rule, an Obama-era regulation that aimed to smooth the path for foreign entrepreneurs who want to live and work in the United States. The notice comes the same day as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services said it will begin accepting applications under this rule, following a federal judge’s order that the rule be implemented, even as the administration seeks to rescind it long-term.

Changing the definition of who qualifies for an H-1B visa, in a proposed rule called “Strengthening the H-1B Non-immigrant Visa Classification Program.”

There are 85,000 H-1B visas allocated to for-profit corporations through a lottery each year.

They are currently reserved for “specialty occupations,” which means the job is so complex that it requires someone with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The administration is looking to redefine what it means to have a “specialty occupation.”

According to the Unified Agenda, these changes to the H-1B program will “increase focus on truly obtaining the best and brightest foreign nationals via the H-1B program and would revise the definition of employment and employer-employee relationship to help better protect U.S. workers and wages.”

Trisha Thadani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: tthadani@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @TrishaThadani

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