His original intent was to eliminate the H-1B visa program.
However, upon meeting with corporate executives during his campaign, President Trump changed course, deciding the H-1B visa program didn’t need to be eliminated but reformed.
Trump signed an executive order entitled “Buy American – Hire American”, designed to make it harder for U.S. companies to hire foreign help. It calls for four government agencies to suggest reforms to the H-1B visa program as soon as possible.
Although the order doesn’t eliminate the H-1B visa program, its purpose is to ensure high-quality workers are being hired for “specialty positions” and not simply fill positions for cheaper wages. Before any U.S. company can decide to hire a foreign national, they must prove they tried every alternative route to find qualified American workers first. If they should need to hire a foreign national, they must be the best-of-the-best.
The reason for the executive order follows Trump’s campaign promises to reform the program; statements following accusations U.S. companies were hiring foreign nationals willing to work long hours for less pay. As some companies attempted to work that angle, the majority followed the strict federal H-1B guidelines.
As part of this latest executive order, Trump is calling for the Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of Labor, and Secretary of Homeland Security to propose new laws and regulations in order to protect the interest of United States workers.
Even before Trump signed the executive order, companies were uncertain what reforms would be put in place, impacting the number of H-1B visa applications submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
For several years, the number of H-1B visa applications seemed to be increasing. However, for the 2018 fiscal year, only 199,000 applications were filed with the USCIS compared to 233,000 in 2016, a 16% decrease.
Changes made, so far, are intended to simply reduce the number of H-1B visas used to hire less-skilled applicants at lower pay rates. The federal government made some incremental changes this year, yet no major fundamental shifts. There are bills in Congress pushing for bigger adjustments, but would not impact the program until sometime in either 2018 or 2019.
The hope is drawing candidates who fall under the “specialty occupation” criteria establish since the beginning of the H-1B visa program. A category which requires a foreign national have a college education and specialize skill sets to handle a specific job type. Not simply hiring foreigners to fill seats in a call center to minimize call volume.
FACTS vs. NARRATIVES
It’s understandable why Americans are skeptical of any work visa program.
Over the years some U.S companies have abused it. Not just with the H-1B visa program, but in other facets such as hotels and restaurants businesses, notorious for hiring illegal immigrants.
These are the stories which get reported on which, to no surprise, create a negative narrative that foreigners are taking American jobs.
When monthly reports come out highlighting national unemployment statistics, many U.S. citizens blame U.S. employers of replacing American workers with foreigners to save money. When taken into account, the national unemployment rate is just that – a national statistic. What it doesn’t highlight is where job openings are and what positions are needing to be filled.
For example, the technology giant Silicon Valley tends to hire many foreign nationals. Not because they’re cheaper because there are not enough qualified American technology specialist in their area. By federal law, even before Trump signed his recent executive order, companies were required to post job listings within their own company (for those looking for advancement opportunities) as well as outside the company. After interviews were conducted and qualified American applicants hired, if there are more positions which need to be filled, at that point a company could submit an H-1B visa application.
Companies are not always in a rush to do so. It actually costs U.S. businesses more to bring in a foreign national on an H-1B visa than to hire a qualified American worker.
Positions which can be offered to foreigners must fall under a specific category of “specialty positions”. Meaning, positions which are hard to fill and require a certain college degree and skillsets. Therefore, general customer service positions, maintenance, sales positions, are not considered “specialty positions”.
When Americans see or hear foreigners working those positions, it’s because the worker is either a U.S. citizen or, in cases of customer service, the U.S. company outsourced their business to a foreign country.
It’s very likely there are numerous Americans qualified to work at Silicon Valley, able to fill every open position within Silicon Valley. Yet, those Americans may reside along the east coast or Midwest. People not looking to move, and positions Silicon Valley cannot simply have workers perform at their residence.
And finally, it’s illegal to pay foreign nationals less than their American co-worker. When a company sponsors a foreign national, the pay must match the position within the democratic.
Foreign workers do contribute to the American economy.
Those working in American on work visas are not replacing Americans as they’re filling gaps to help U.S. companies meet their business goals. Remember, as U.S. companies perform well, they’re able to give out raises and create more positions for Americans.
Therefore, as President Trump now realizes and what many Americans need to understand better, is the benefits the H-1B visa program provides the United States and possibly consider raising the current 85,000 annual cap.