Starting today, companies can apply to win H-1B visas for the 2018 fiscal year--but it will be harder than ever to hire foreign coders.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a government body responsible for evaluating H-1B visa applications and granting up to 85,000 annually for specialty labor, has issued new guidance on how immigration officials should vet applicants. In a government memo, which was first spotted by Axios, U.S.C.I.S. argues that computer programmers are not presumed to be eligible for these visas, as they have been in the past. Here's an excerpt from the memo:

"An entry-level computer programmer position would not generally qualify as a position in a specialty occupation" the memo reads. "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."

What's more, a bachelor's degree may longer be sufficient to prove that a programming job qualifies as specialty labor. Applicants should also be able to demonstrate that the degree is in "the specific specialty, or it's equivalent," the memo states.

It's not entirely clear how many visas the new guidelines may affect, but the move comes as President Trump has threatened to overhaul the entire H-1B visa system. This has a growing number of technology industry executives spooked, and for good reason: Companies including Amazon, Apple and Google rely on foreign talent, and have spent millions lobbying Congress to raise the H-1B visa cap. In 2014, Apple received 443 of these visas, with 728 going to Google, and 877 to Amazon, according to the most recent available data.

"This is a major problem and incredibly short-sighted," says Bradley Tusk, founder and CEO of Tusk Ventures, a venture capital firm that helps tech startups navigate government regulation. "Innovation is what our country does best, and getting the world's most talented to help us build the next Google, Amazon or Apple is critical," to our economic and national security," he adds.

Published on: Apr 3, 2017