Minnesota employers as different as hospitals, retailers and the Vikings find themselves in an uneasy spotlight the Trump administration has trained on a controversial work visa program.
As part of President Donald Trump’s Buy American and Hire American initiative, the government recently released for the first time detailed data on employers who secured three-year H-1B visas for college-educated professionals. Local employers and immigration attorneys also report a major increase in paperwork requests and unannounced site visits.
Administration supporters say these steps bring needed transparency to the program, which has been blamed for displacing U.S. workers. But local critics say that instead of meaningful reforms, the government so far has opted for crippling red tape and employer shaming.
“I’ve not seen this much anxiety in the time I’ve been doing this,” said Chris Wendt, the veteran immigration attorney at the Mayo Clinic, the state’s top H-1B employer. “What’s going to happen next?”
The new data show Minnesota-based employers enlisted highly educated, well-paid hires through the program, which generally taps foreigners with at least four-year degrees for specialized jobs, especially in IT, science and engineering.
The Buy American and Hire American executive order Trump signed in April directed federal agencies to redouble efforts to prevent abuse of the H-1B program and look for ways to ensure visas go only to the highest-paid, most skilled foreign workers.
In recent weeks, U.S. Citizenship and Application Services, the agency that handles H-1B applications, put out data breaking down H-1Bs approved in 2015 and 2016 by employer — an unprecedented trove that includes information about the education and salaries of hires.
The 10 Minnesota employers awarded the most H-1Bs together secured 858 visas in 2016. They reported an average salary of $108,000 for these hires. More than 75 percent of the visas went to hires with advanced degrees. More than 80 other local employers used the program to hire anywhere from one to a dozen workers.
Minnesota employers, however, are not the biggest users of H-1Bs in the state. According to MyVisaJobs.com, a website that compiles data on a preliminary application that employers file, the top three applicants for Minnesota-based positions in 2016 were Indian IT outsourcing companies. The companies, which contract with unidentified U.S. employers to bring in H-1B workers, put in about 2,000 out of almost 10,000 applications and reported an average salary of $70,000. Corporations with a presence in the state, such as IBM, also outpaced Minnesota-based companies.