Trump Acts to Reform Employment Visa Program


Donald Trump — who, in one of his first acts as president, pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — has taken another action that hopefully puts Americans and their economic destiny first.

As of this writing on April 18, the president traveled to Kenosha, Wis., to visit the headquarters of Snap-on Inc., a noted tool manufacturer. There, the 45th president signed an executive order dubbed “Buy American, Hire American.”

He’s evidently tired of employment-visa programs that undercut American workers through the excessive importation of labor, some of which is too cheap. The administration is mindful that some technology companies utilize such visa programs to hire large numbers of foreign workers, which tends to drive wages down.

The new executive order, among other things, directs the Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and State departments “to propose new rules to prevent immigration fraud and abuse,” according to a Business Insider online dispatch. By all indications, this means that those departments will be tasked to recommend the necessary changes so that H-1B employment visas are only awarded to the most skilled or highest-paid applicants and not to broader classes of workers representing the cheap labor which exerts such downward pressure on wages.

Trump’s order also is reportedly designed to help strengthen requirements that American-made products be used in various grant-funded federal transportation projects and in certain federal construction projects. That’s timely when you consider that Trump wants to spend $1 trillion on badly needed nationwide infrastructure projects. And this factor surely will get the attention of the unionized construction workers across the spectrum to whom Trump recently spoke, painting a promising picture of America being rebuilt with American pride and know-how.

Furthermore, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is expected to review how to close loopholes in enforcing the existing rules. Specifically, Ross will review rule waivers which are tucked away in free-trade agreements that are notoriously anti-labor. If it’s determined that the waivers do not benefit the U.S., then administration officials are saying the rules will be renegotiated or revoked.

Stacking the Deck

Via a lottery approach, approximately 85,000 H-1B visas are distributed annually, with many of them going to technology companies. These companies constantly claim that the US has a shortage of skilled technology workers.

“Critics say the program has been hijacked by staffing companies that use the visas to import foreigners — often from India — who will work for less than Americans. The staffing companies then sell their services to corporate clients that use them to outsource tech work,” Business Insider added.

Various employers, ranging from tech companies, to hospitals, to universities, have laid off their information-technology employees and replaced them with H-1B visa holders, even while the laid-off US workers are sometimes asked to train their replacements, otherwise they may not qualify for severance packages that are often the only thing standing between the former employee and peonage.

While Trump has wavered on this issue, at one campaign debate he called for fully ending the H-1B program. “It’s ... unfair for our workers. And we should end it,” he was widely quoted as saying.

Trump’s executive order appears to be a move in the right direction—basically fulfilling his pledge to rework the economy toward “made in USA by American workers”— but there are lingering concerns. H-1B critic Ronil Hira, a Howard University public policy professor, said of Trump’s new order: “It’s not as aggressive as it needs to be.”

And considering that Trump is often in the company of economic hyper-libertarians like Peter Thiel, whose worldview puts the creditor-investment class on the highest possible pedestal, we should be more than watchful on whether the executive order will really do what it’s supposed to do.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, a bill by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) would require companies which seek H-1B visas to first make a good-faith effort to hire Americans, something that members of Congress have considered before with rather unimpressive results. So, it would not hurt to call Congress at 202-224-3121 or 225-3121 and demand that employment-visa changes truly put Americans first.

Mark Anderson is a veteran journalist who divides his time between Texas and Michigan. Email him at

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2017

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