US President Donald Trump ordered a review of the visa program for bringing high-skilled foreign workers into the country, putting technology firms and the outsourcing companies that serve them on notice that possible changes may be ahead.
Seeking to carry out a campaign pledge to put “America First”, Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order on the H-1B visa program, Reuters reports.
It was vague on many fronts, but in a press briefing and a fact sheet the White House pointed toward basic goals.
One objective, said Trump aides, is to modify or replace the current lottery for H-1B visas with a merit-based system that would restrict the visas to highly skilled workers.
Indian nationals are the largest group of H-1B recipients annually.
Such a change could affect companies, such as Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., Cognizant Tech Solutions Corp. and Infosys Ltd., that connect Silicon Valley with thousands of foreign engineers and programmers, the news agency said.
Trump announced the order and made remarks at a visit to the headquarters of Snap-On Inc., a tool maker in Wisconsin.
In addition to addressing the visas issue, he also ordered a government review of government procurement rules favoring American companies to see if they are actually benefiting, especially the US steel industry.
“With this action, we are sending a powerful signal to the world: We’re going to defend our workers, protect our jobs and finally put America first,” Trump said.
As he nears the 100-day benchmark of his presidency, Trump still has no major legislative achievements.
With his attempts to overhaul healthcare and tax law stalled in Congress, Trump has leaned heavily on executive orders to change policy, Reuters said.
It was unclear whether the latest such order would yield immediate results. The H-1B visas section included no definite timeline, while the government procurement section did.
“We hope the goal of President Trump’s executive order on the H-1B program is ‘mend it, don’t end it,’” said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a major technology industry group.
Going to a more merit-based H-1B system could attract more people with advanced science and technology skills, he said in a statement.
But he said some ideas could make the system ineffective, such as requiring advertisement of job openings for long periods to prove the unavailability of US workers.
Critics of the program say most H-1B visas are awarded for lower-paid jobs at outsourcing firms, many based in India. They say that takes work away from Americans and lowers wages.
“Right now, widespread abuse in our immigration system is allowing American workers of all backgrounds to be replaced by workers brought in from other countries,” Trump said.
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