yesIssie LapowskyNone
×

Get access to Protocol

I’ve already subscribed

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

Politics

Court strikes down immigration hurdles for foreign tech workers

In a win for big tech companies, a judge has ruled that onerous requirements the Trump administration has placed on H-1B visa holders are "irrational" and "invalid."

Donald Trump

In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order limiting H-1B visas for highly skilled workers. This week, a judge struck down the order, a win for tech companies and the foreign workers they employ.

Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images

U.S. companies that employ highly skilled foreign workers scored a major victory on Tuesday, as a U.S. District Court judge in Washington struck down a set of onerous requirements that the Trump administration has been imposing on H-1B visa applicants since 2018. The requirements, which include forcing applicants to show exactly what projects they'd work on over a three-year time period, led to a dramatic surge in visa denials since 2016.

The decision came in a case called ITServe Alliance v. Francis Cissna, which pitted an industry association for IT firms against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. But the court's ruling wasn't just a win for the IT outsourcing industry. Given that companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook are among the top H-1B employers in America, it was a win for big tech — and the foreign workers they employ — too.

"A decision like this has been long overdue," ITServe's national president, Amar Varada, said in a statement. "We finally have the judicial system agreeing with the employers that USCIS has been out of bounds for a long time."

In a statement, USCIS told Protocol, "USCIS is currently reviewing the court's decision, and we have no additional comment to provide at this time."


Get what matters in tech, in your inbox every morning. Sign up for Source Code.


At issue in the case was a 2018 policy memo that USCIS published, implementing new rules for adjudicating H-1B applications. Since the 1990s, when the H-1B visa was first created, applicants had to prove to USCIS that they actually had a job offer from a U.S. employer by providing an offer letter, contract or an itinerary detailing where they were going to work and when.

But the 2018 memo said that applicants would now need to explain exactly what assignments they'd be working on at exactly what times throughout the entire three-year period, a change that led to a swift uptick in visa denials, and in some cases, visas that were approved for as little as one day of work. Some H-1B visa holders who had been working in the United States for years and were on track for legal permanent resident status found their visas suddenly denied, starting a countdown clock before they and their families would be forced to leave the country.

In her decision, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer wrote that this change was "irrational." Collyer, who was nominated to the bench by former President George W. Bush, said the memo not only contradicts statutes passed by Congress related to H-1B visas, but amounts to an official agency rule that never went through a formal rule-making process, and was therefore, invalid.

"[I]t would effectively destroy a long-standing business resource without congressional action," Collyer wrote.

None of this is to say that the H-1B visa program is otherwise perfect. A recent survey run by OneZero found that H-1B visa workers "report feeling like an underclass, with stressful working conditions and discrimination due to their visa status." Meanwhile, stories have emerged over the years of corporations like Disney firing American workers and forcing them to train their lower-paid, H-1B replacements. The court's decision doesn't fix the problems with the H-1B visa program. But it does eliminate one of the newer hurdles interrupting both workers' lives and the operations of the companies that hire them.

The court ordered USCIS to reopen the nearly 100 applications in the case and adjudicate them within 60 days, without subjecting them to these new requirements.

"On one hand I'm not surprised in the least by the court's decision," said Jonathan Wasden, an attorney with Wasden Banias, who represented the ITServe Alliance. "On the other hand, it's still fun." Wasden has also filed a series of lawsuits over what he argues are unreasonable delays in the adjudication of H-4 visas for the spouses of H-1B visa holders, which Protocol has covered in depth.


Get in touch with us: Share information securely with Protocol via encrypted Signal or WhatsApp message, at 415-214-4715 or through our anonymous SecureDrop.


USCIS now has 30 days to appeal the court's decision. For Wasden, that would be a welcome outcome. USCIS' own officer training guidelines regarding how to interpret case law state that "typically, U.S. District Court decisions are not binding on other courts or on you." Wasden said that means the agency may well disregard this decision as it pertains to cases outside of Washington. A circuit court of appeals ruling, on the other hand, could compel the administration to end this practice, not just in D.C., but across the country.

"It would be a birthday present to me if they appeal," Wasden said.

The District Court opinion alone is still an important step. And in the near future, he said, if companies or workers run into similar visa issues, they now know that if they bring a case in Washington, they "have a pretty sure shot of winning."

Power

Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

Keep Reading Show less
Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Policy

Bad news for Big Tech: Bipartisan agreement on antitrust reform

Democrats and Republicans found common ground during the first House hearing on antitrust of the new Congress. Here's what that means for tech giants.

The House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee held their first hearing of the 117th Congress.

Photo: Tom Williams/Getty Images

During the first House antitrust hearing of the new Congress, Democratic chairman David Cicilline and Republican ranking member Ken Buck made it clear they intend to forge ahead with a series of bipartisan reform efforts that could cut into the power of the largest technology companies.

"We will work on a serious bipartisan basis to advance these reforms together," Cicilline said during his opening remarks Thursday.

Keep Reading Show less
Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Power

Cord cutting in 2020: Pay TV industry lost 5.5 million subscribers

Subscriber defections slowed toward the end of the year, but there's no end to cord cutting in sight.

The pay TV industry is undergoing a bit of a power shift.

Photo: Nicolas J Leclercq/Unsplash

The five biggest pay TV providers lost a combined 5.5 million subscribers in 2020, narrowly staying below the 5.8 million subscribers the companies collectively lost in 2019. Subscriber losses slowed a bit toward the end of the year, but pandemic-related cutbacks still hit the industry hard — and may have led to hundreds of thousands additional cancellations if not for industry-wide billing relief efforts.

The industry is undergoing a bit of a power shift, with pay TV subscribers switching from traditional operators like Comcast and AT&T to tech companies like Google and Hulu and their respective pay TV services. However, a closer look at pay TV trends suggests that these gains may be temporary, as so-called skinny bundles fall out of favor with consumers once operators are forced to increase their price tags to make up for ever-increasing network licensing costs.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Latest Stories