The US Democratic Party has criticised President Donald Trump for announcing "sweeping changes" to the H-1B nonimmigrant visa programme in decades without public scrutiny, saying it is clearly an attempt to score last-minute political points ahead of the November 3 presidential election.
In a move which will affect thousands of Indian IT professionals, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Tuesday announced the interim final rule, which, the Trump administration said, is aimed at protecting American workers, restoring integrity and to better guarantee that H-1B petitions are approved only for qualified beneficiaries and petitioners.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Wednesday said: "With less than 30 days to go before the elections, the Trump administration announced that it will implement the most sweeping changes to the H-1B visa programme we have seen in decades - and will do so by skirting the normal notice and comment process required by the Administrative Procedure Act".
The Democrat from New York said while the programme can certainly benefit from reforms, the US laws require that the public be provided with adequate notice and a meaningful opportunity to comment before such reforms are implemented.
"This simply cannot be accomplished to the degree required through an interim final rule and the administration knows this. This is clearly an attempt to score the last-minute political points," Mr Nadler said.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
Such a decision by the Trump administration will have an adverse impact on thousands of Indian IT professionals. Already a large number of Indians on the H-1B visas have lost their jobs and are headed back home during the coronavirus pandemic that has severely hit the US economy.
Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren said that over the years, she had introduced several bills that would reform the H-1B programme to prohibit substandard wages and ensure that unscrupulous employers don't abuse the system to the detriment of US workers.
"While the system needs updating, changes, this must not be rushed through without adequate input from the public.
"Further, the Congress set forth very clear parameters when it created the H-1B programme and the administration has admitted that the new DHS rule will affect more than one-third of H-1B petitions that have been lawfully filed and approved for decades," she said, adding that she expects this too will be quickly enjoined by the court as has been the case with so many of this administration's "unlawful" policies.
Reacting to the criticism, the ruling Republican Party leaders said that the move will address abuses in the high-skilled guest worker programme used to "displace" American workers with low-paid foreign labour.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley applauded the Trump administration's move to "crackdown on widespread abuses" within the H-1B visa programme.
"I have long expressed concern that the H-1B programme, as it currently operates, undermines the wages and job opportunities of American workers and contains inadequate protections for American and immigrant workers alike.
"Instead of being used to fill legitimate gaps in the labour force, the H-1B programme is often abused to simply replace American workers with cheap guest worker labour. That abuse needs to stop and I strongly support the efforts," Mr Grassley said.
The DHS on Wednesday said that while the programme intended to allow employers to fill gaps in their workforce and remain competitive in the global economy, it has expanded far beyond that, often to the detriment of US workers.
Data shows that more than half-a-million H-1B non-immigrants in the United States have been used to displace US workers, which has led to reduced wages in a number of industries and stagnation of wages in certain occupations, it said.
In a separate statement, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) opposed the move.
AILA president Jennifer Minear said foreign workers play a vital role in the American economy but these regulations will create nearly insurmountable barriers to their hiring.
"Not only do these rules inappropriately scapegoat immigrants for the ills of our current economic downturn but they are also self-defeating. These rules will undoubtedly hamstring a process proven to bring some of the world's best and brightest into American businesses. American workers and businesses only stand to suffer as a result of these changes until these rules are challenged and overturned in court," he said.
"Contrary to the narrative promoted by the DHS and DOL and echoed by restrictionist groups, these rules will have crippling effects on American businesses and the economy at large," said Benjamin Johnson, AILA's executive director.
"These regulations will lay the groundwork for the pricing out of foreign labour, which is essential to the solvency of countless American businesses. Under the guise of economic recovery, the government is essentially halting the pipeline of global talent needed for innovation and economic success," Mr Johnson added.