A United States federal court in California on Tuesday blocked two rules related to the H-1B visa, introduced by the Donald Trump administration, that were meant to limit the number of visas granted to foreign skilled workers, AP reported.
The changes to the H-1B visa programme were announced in October. 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 US Departments of Labor and Homeland Security also shortened the length of visas for certain contract workers.
The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows American companies to employ foreign workers in occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The H-1B visa is highly sought-after by Indian IT professionals.
US District Judge Jeffrey White on Tuesday said the administration did not follow a transparent process while introducing the changes. The judge pointed out that the government’s contention that the changes in the rules were an emergency response to job losses due to the coronavirus was not reasonable. The Trump administration had floated the idea some time ago, but published the rules only in October, the judge said.
“Covid-19 pandemic is an event beyond defendants’ control, yet it was within [the] defendants’ control to take action earlier than they did,” White wrote in his judgement.
US Department of Homeland Security officials had said the changes were needed because of coronavirus-related job losses, and predicted that as many as one-third of those who have applied for H-1B visas in recent years would be denied.
The US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and others had sued the Department of Homeland Security, arguing that the changes were made without a proper public review process.
Bay Area Council Chief Executive Jim Wunderman called the ruling a “major win”, according to AFP. “The Bay Area and America must continue to be a place where anyone around the world can come to pursue their dream or dream job,” he said. He said that many firms in North Carolina are comprised of people who first came to the US on work visas.
“H-1B workers fill an important need in our economy and provide immense benefits not only to the companies they work for but the communities where they live,” Wunderman said.
On October 1, a federal judge in San Francisco had blocked Trump from enforcing a temporary ban on a large number of work permits, including the H-1B visa. Trump had on June 22 signed an executive order to suspend several categories of foreign work visas till the end of 2020.
Moreover, US President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign has said that they would increase the number of high-skilled visas, including the H-1B, and eliminate the limit on employment-based visas by the country.