USC joins lawsuit against federal government move to restrict H-1B visas

USC has joined a lawsuit against the federal government following its proposal to amend the H-1B visa program, which permits highly skilled international individuals, including recently graduated international students and international faculty at USC, to remain in the United States to work. The new restrictions, announced by the departments of Homeland Security and Labor Oct. 6, will narrow the range of occupations eligible for the visa and modify wage requirements to encourage employers to focus on recruiting more American workers.

In an email to the USC community Monday, President Carol Folt said USC stands behind the international students that have come through its institution and the many others across the country. The University has joined the lawsuit alongside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, Plaintiff Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and other leading institutions.

“Our country benefits immensely from the work of uniquely talented and innovative people who come from around the world,” Folt wrote in the letter. “At USC, H-1B visa holders use their highly specialized expertise and knowledge to advance work that fuels innovation, serves the public good, and saves lives.”

These new restrictions follow President Donald Trump’s June executive order that suspended entry to the United States for noncitizens with certain work-based visas, including the H-1B visa, through Dec. 31. The changes were intended to address the current unemployment rate among U.S. workers that has stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic and government action on its behalf, according to an Oct. 6 press release from DHS that cited the program’s primary function is to fill gaps in the workforce.

The lawsuit accuses the federal government of taking advantage of the unemployment situation to advance changes without the typical checks and balances. According to the lawsuit, the proposals passed through with expectations for public notice and comment waived, sidelining any public input on the grounds of the unemployment situation. 

“The good cause exception is not available when an agency is faced with an emergency, waits seven months (enough time to solicit comments), and then attempts to issue a rule without notice and comment,” the lawsuit reads.

The unemployment rate reached a high in April at 14.7%, an increase of more than 10 percentage points from before shutdown in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate sat at 7.9% in September, continuing a downward trend that began in May.

As a proudly international institution, USC will continue to support the international scholars in its network, Folt wrote in her letter. The University currently represents more than 135 countries across students, faculty and staff, according to the lawsuit.

This is not the first time USC has entered a lawsuit regarding visa developments since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. In July, USC joined other universities in one after student visa holders were told that they would only be permitted to remain in the United States for school if they maintained at least one in-person class, which caused universities such as USC to scramble after many announced they would hold classes primarily online. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement rescinded its decision less than two weeks later following backlash.