Trump Executive Order
Makes It Harder to Hire Foreign Workers
April 19, 2017
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order aimed
at making it harder for companies to hire temporary foreign workers.
The order, called "Buy American — Hire American," will take initial
steps to reform the H1-B visa program.
H1-Bs allow employers — mostly high-tech firms — to hire skilled foreign
workers to work in the U.S. for three years. There are 85,000 slots
available each year, 65,000 for applicants with bachelor's degrees and
20,000 for those with master's degrees or higher.
"We are going to use a tool you all know very well. It's called the
sledgehammer," Trump said Tuesday during a speech at Snap-on Tools, a
company in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The administration will require companies to demonstrate that the visas
are going only to the most highly skilled workers in their fields.
"They [H1-Bs] should be given to the most skilled and highest-paid
applicants and not be used to replace Americans," Trump said.
Open to abuse
The administration says the visas, which can be renewed once, have
contributed to a slide in American wages; 80 percent of H1-B visa
holders are paid less than the median wage in their fields.
Howard University political science professor Ron Hira said the Trump
administration is right: "The laws are loose, and so what happens is
it's become a way for employers to bring in cheaper, indentured workers
as opposed to filling those skills gaps. As a result, the program is
oversubscribed, and it's actually undercutting Americans."
When the application season opened for H1-Bs this month, federal offices
were quickly flooded. As in recent years, there were so many
applications that the U.S. government stopped accepting them within a
week. Visa winners will be chosen by a computer-generated lottery.
Hira also said the intent of the program is good in serving as a guest
worker program for when there are shortages of American workers. What
got in the way? Politics.
Companies are making so much money, he said, that they are able to
influence Congress to prevent changes in the H1-B program. And it's all
said that if the sledgehammer seemed to be velvet-coated, that's because
the executive order is not really intended to change policy so much as
to guide policy changes. Federal agencies will have to implement it.
"The idea behind the executive order is to make it merit-based, that the
really highly skilled people get preference over the cheap labor that
goes on," Hira said.
Overwhelmingly, India has been the biggest recipient of H1-B visas. The
Department of Homeland Security reports that 71 percent of H1-Bs went to
Indians in 2015. China was a distant second with 10 percent of the
India's success is attributed to its huge outsourcing firms that submit
thousands of applications every year, increasing their chances of
winning the visa lottery.
Outsourcing firms, which supply services to other companies, are
controversial because they are not subject to a federal requirement that
they not displace American workers if they pay the H1-Bs at least
$60,000 a year.
Hira said the new policy might help high-tech American companies at the
expense of the outsourcing firms that abuse the system.
But "expect the Indian government to lobby against the changes," he
The executive order also called on all federal agencies to buy American.
It established a 220-day review on waivers and exemptions to government
"Buy American" rules.