President Trump set his sights on H-1B visa reform by signing a “Hire American” executive order. The order directs four federal agencies (State, Justice, Labor and Homeland Security) to ensure that H1-B visas go to the highest skilled applicants rather than the current random lottery system, and takes new steps in fraud abuse and prevention of the work visa program.
About 85,000 work visas are awarded annually, with about one-quarter of those—roughly 20,000—reserved for applicants with advanced master’s degrees. Trump’s executive order comes just as the five-day application period closed last week; about 200,000 applications were received this year, declining for the first time in five years. The order also halted the practice of expedited H1-B processing, which for a fee of about $1,200 promises an application review within 15 days.
Critics of the order say that it won’t have any direct impact on the process because current Congressional legislation must be altered for true impact. Indeed, Congress has recently introduced several H1-B reform bills. One is a bipartisan bill from senators Dick Durbin and Charles Grassley, both of whom have been trying to reform the program for several years. Their bill is in line with Trump’s order in that the bill eliminates the random lottery and replaces it with a preference system to keep foreign students who were educated in the United States, and even more preference to advanced degree holders or those with other extremely valuable skills or earning high wages. Grassley said he is “grateful President Trump has taken my suggestions to heart by taking steps to protect American workers and preserve limited H-1B visas for truly qualified, high-skilled foreign workers.”
H-1B visas have traditionally been used to fill skill gaps here in the U.S., but the program is highly abused. One example involves foreign outsourcing firms, mainly in India and China, who bombard the system with applicants to obtain visas to contract their significantly lower-waged workers out to U.S. technology firms, replacing American jobs in the process.
Attorney Sara Blackwell is an American worker advocate and says that Trump’s order gives her hope because the current system is flawed with serious problems.
Critics of the order say it is creating uncertainty with many legitimate foreign companies and is not a good step for American businesses or certain Americans, like rural areas that heavily rely on skilled immigrant medical professionals. Other countries like India, which is bracing for an economic impact, are also not big fans.
The President’s order did not specify any deadlines to the four agencies, but did ask for their proposals ASAP, but Trump says it is a good start at his continued efforts to make good on campaign promises to reduce immigration.