Trump order would target high skilled worker visa program

Barsaba Taglieri
Aprile 19, 2017

President Donald Trump is to sign an executive order to review a temporary visa programme used to place foreign workers in high-skilled United States jobs.

This was a transitional step aimed at achieving a more skills-based and merit-based immigration system. The visa program is supposed to bring workers with skills that are scarce in the United States into the country; but, Trump administration officials say they are concerned that companies are hiring foreigners who do the same work as Americans at lower wages. The officials also said that the order will enforce "more vigorous stance" if companies are found misusing the visa program.

"This order also breaks additional new ground by taking a very hard look at how waivers of Buy American in our free trade agreements may be a poster child of unfair and non-reciprocal trade in the $4.4 trillion global procurement market", the senior administration official said.

It will also call on these four departments to recommend reforms for ensuring that the H-1B visas are given to the highly skilled or the highest paid applicants.

The H-2A temporary agricultural program allows for employers to bring in nonimmigrant foreign workers into the country to fill seasonal or temporary agricultural jobs or services when they expect a scarcity of domestic workers to fulfill those needs.

The US government follows a lottery system for awarding 65,000 H-1B visas every year and distributes randomly another 20,000 visas to graduate student workers.

While the White House did not share the order's language, a senior official told WIRED that the order will call on the Department of Labor, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to submit a list of administrative and legislative reforms that would take on abuse of the visa programme. H-1B applications declined from 236,000 to 199,000 this year, with employers uncertain of what changes might come under the Trump administration.

During the campaign, Donald Trump promised to eliminate the H-1B visa program, though he flip-flopped on the issue many times.

NASSCOM, the Indian IT service industry's main lobby group, said it supports efforts to root out any abuses occurring in the H-1B system, but said the idea that H-1B visa holders are cheap labor is inaccurate and a campaign to discredit the sector. Administration officials said 80 percent of workers who enter the US on H-1B visas are paid less than the median wage in their fields. Trump also ordered the DHS to come up with reforms in the process of handing out these visas so that they are given to only highly paid, specially skilled applicants, and not foreign workers who are paid less than their US counterparts, Time reported.

"This is what America wants", said a second official.

But the CEO, Nicholas Pinchuk, pointed not to measures to protect American-made goods or reforms to the H1-B visa program, but rather to more training for workers.

"Some companies oftentimes are called outsourcing firms".

"Well, you know what?"

Beyond that, the administration could scrap the current lottery approach and give priority to higher-paying jobs, thereby weeding out lower-paying, entry-level positions. As part of the executive order, the agencies have been asked to do everything they can, he said. "You could be looking at things like if we could adjust the wage scale to have a more honest reflection of what the prevailing wages actually are in these fields", the official said.

Trump has spent seven of his first 13 weekends as president at Mar-a-Lago, the private club he owns in Palm Beach, Florida, even dining there with world leaders both in the formal dining room and on the deck amid other club members.

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