President Donald Trump tweeted Friday morning that high-skilled immigrants currently in the United States could see major changes to their visa program soon, including a possible path to citizenship.
"H1-B holders in the United States can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship. We want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S.," Trump tweeted.
The H-1B is an employment visa for high-skilled foreign workers, specifically for jobs requiring a bachelor's degree or higher. If obtained, it allows a person to remain in the country for an initial three years, with an option to extent to up to six years. The total number of H-1B visas issued per year is officially capped at 85,000 per year, although as the Washington Free Beacon has previously reported, the actual number is substantially higher.
H-1B holders are currently eligible to apply for and receive lawful permanent resident status, a.k.a. a green card. As such, given that green card holders are eligible for naturalization, H-1B recipients are already able to obtain citizenship—it is unclear if Trump intends to shorten this path.
Although it is not clear what changes Trump has in mind, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to introduce a number of changes to the program, Axios reported. Those will likely include revoking the Obama-era rule which gave work permits for the usually low-skilled spouses of H-1B holders (who are themselves on an H-4 visa), and giving enhanced visa preferences to graduate students.
The Trump administration in general has been thus far less than friendly to H-1B holders, according to Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. This is in no small part because of fears of H-1Bs being used by unscrupulous employers to replace native-born, high-skill workers with immigrants who command a lower wage. For example, an MPI report found that the top twenty H-1B using firms paid immigrant employees $30,000 less on average than their native-born counterparts.
At the same time, the administration has been broadly supportive of a shift to a more skills-based immigration system. The White House has backed the RAISE Act, Sens. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and David Perdue's (R., Ga.) proposal to create a points-based, skills-focused immigration system in place of the current, family-preference-emphasized one.