More than 2 dozen colleges sue feds over H-1B visa rules

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Dive Brief:

  • More than two dozen colleges and higher education groups, including Stanford University and the University of Michigan, are suing the federal government to stop changes to a key visa program for highly skilled workers.
  • Regulations announced earlier this month from the U.S. departments of labor and homeland security narrow eligibility requirements for H-1B visas and increase how much employers must pay workers hired through the program.
  • Two lawsuits filed Monday in federal courts show the rules’ potential effects on higher education institutions.

Dive Insight:

In a lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California, colleges and several employer groups called the changes “a coordinated assault” on the H-1B visa category. 

The mandate to pay H-1B employees more could make it harder for colleges to recruit and retain talent. At the University of Utah, a co-plaintiff, a computer science instructor making about $80,000 annually would have to be paid $208,000 under the new rule, despite a $62,760 floor for the position, the lawsuit argues. The lawsuit estimates pay increases between 35% and 200% or more depending on the field. 

That change could also require them to pay domestic workers more, the lawsuit states.

A lawsuit filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia argues the Labor Department’s rule could hamper Purdue University’s ability to enroll students. “The university’s foundational mission will be adversely impacted” if it can’t afford to hire international faculty or scholars under the new mandate, the lawsuit states.

The University of Michigan “conservatively” estimates it would cost $1 million annually to raise wages by $2,500 per year, not including indirect wage pressures, and so the new salary levels “would be unsustainable” in light of the pandemic, the lawsuit states. The rules would also limit post-graduation options in the U.S. for the university’s more than 8,000 international students.

The rules are part of the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to tighten immigration policies. One department official reportedly said the H-1B changes could eliminate about one-third of H-1B visa applications. They’ve framed the latest rules as protecting U.S. workers.

But the colleges, in their lawsuits, argue foreign talent is critical, particularly in fields like healthcare, and that hiring H-1B workers has a positive economic impact

When the rules were released, higher ed legal experts said having fewer postgraduate options in the U.S. could deter international students from picking its colleges. New international student enrollment has decreased in the last three years on record, and college officials have expressed concern the pandemic and new immigration policies could further suppress those levels.

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