Saturday, 23/9/2017 | 2:29 UTC+0

New immigration policy could increase scrutiny of visas for computer programmers

In a move that may affect how the tech industry hires programmers from overseas, the United States quietly released a visa policy that could mean stricter scrutiny for companies seeking coders.

First spotted by Axios, a US Citizenship and Immigration Services memo posted online advises immigration officials to no longer follow an “obsolete” memo from 2000, which provided guidance on how to vet requests for H-1B visas, a type of visa for high-skilled workers that’s popular in the tech industry.

Instead, the new policy document focuses on the requirements for “specialty occupations.” An H-1B speciality occupation position requires at minimum a US bachelor’s degree in the designated specialty, the memo says. But, according to the guidance, some requested visa positions may not be meeting those requirements, and instead officials have generally considered programming a specialty occupation by default.

According to the memo, “the fact that a person may be employed as a computer programmer and may use information technology skills and knowledge to help an enterprise achieve its goals in the course of his or her job is not sufficient to establish the position as a specialty occupation.” The memo specifically says that “an entry-level computer programmer position would not generally qualify as a position in a specialty occupation.”

The memo also reminds officials to consider the wage level of a position in whether it qualifies as sufficiently complex for a visa. (The H-1B program has sometimes been criticized for overreaching to include lower-wage workers in the industry.)

The immigration document cast the change as a procedural one meant to avoid conflicting advice, and it’s not immediately clear how many visa requests could be affected. But President Trump has taken aim at the H-1B visa, and a change that tightened requirements for the program would not be unexpected.

In another statement put out today, immigration officials said they would also begin “targeted site visits” of worksites to “determine whether H-1B dependent employers are evading their obligation to make a good faith effort to recruit U.S. workers.”

Meanwhile, today the US began accepting requests for H-1B visas for fiscal year 2018.