The administration of United States President Donald Trump on Wednesday proposed to scrap the computerised lottery system to grant H-1B work visas, and replace it with a selection process that gives priority to the jobs with higher salaries.

The government said this would better protect the economic interests of American workers, while still allowing US employers to “meet their personnel needs and remain globally competitive”.

The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows American companies to employ foreign workers in occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. It is highly sought-after by Indian IT professionals.

H-1B visas are granted by a computer-run lottery if the number of applications exceeds the annual quota in the first week. The US Congress set a limit of 65,000 visas annually and the country’s Citizenship and Immigration Services approves the visas on a first-come-first-served basis, beginning each year on April 1.

The US Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday said that it has submitted a notification with the Federal Register that would prioritise the selection of H-1B registrations based on corresponding wage levels, if it receives more petitions than allowed under the annual limit. Stakeholders have 30 days to respond to the notification.

If finalised, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services would grant visas or select petitions based the salary level of the individuals.

“If USCIS has received more petitions than necessary to meet the numerical limitation for the H-1B regular cap, USCIS will rank and select the petitions received on the basis of the highest Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) wage level that the proffered wage equals or exceeds for the relevant Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code in the area of intended employment,” according to the notice filed by the Trump administration.

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The Department of Homeland Security claimed the new selection process would incentivise employers to offer higher wages, or petition for positions requiring higher skills instead of using the visa programme to fill relatively lower-paid vacancies.

“With this proposed rule, the Trump administration is continuing to deliver on its promise to protect the American worker while strengthening the economy,” said Acting DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli. He claimed that the H-1B programme is often “exploited and abused” by US employers and their US clients, primarily seeking to hire foreign workers and pay lower wages.

The proposal is the latest in a series of changes the administration has made to restrict access to the H1-B programme. On October 22, the State Department had proposed to not issue temporary business visas to skilled foreign workers for H-1B speciality occupations in the US.

On October 6, the Trump administration had announced significant changes to the H-1B visa programme for high-skilled workers. It narrowed the eligibility criteria for applicants and raised the wages American companies would have to pay to hire foreign workers. The changes introduced by the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security would also shorten the length of visas for certain contract workers. The government said the rules would help cushion the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.