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May 2017

H1-B Visa Program Is Up for Executive Review

The Trump administration is weighing action on another front involving foreign-born workers that could cause trouble for many employers—the H1-B visa program that allows businesses to hire foreign workers with highly specialized skills or knowledge. Workers in the H1-B program, at least theoretically, fill technology jobs that employers say they have trouble filling with American workers.

President Trump recently signed an executive order calling for a review of the program with an eye toward ensuring it is not being used to replace capable American workers.

While the order itself makes no specific changes in the program, the administration has already made one change that some employers will find problematic. It scrapped a procedure that allowed employers to pay a higher fee in exchange for getting their applications for prospective workers processed within six weeks instead of the typical lengthier time frame.

While the H1-B program is widely used, it is also widely reviled due to the potential expense and difficulty of obtaining the visas for workers—the program receives many more applications than it has visas available in a given year. There are also persistent charges that employers who are simply looking for cheap labor abuse the program.

In “What Trump’s H-1B Visa Executive Order Actually Does: It’s a Warning Shot to Employers,” Vox’s website spells out the various problems with the program, outlines the political forces at play and explains what changes might be in store.

The bottom line, according to Vox: “If Trump wants to make it harder for outsourcing firms to use H-1Bs to staff call centers and make it easier for tech giants such as Google and Microsoft to bring over high-level engineers, he could find a surprising amount of bipartisan agreement. But if he wants to follow the lead of chief strategist Steve Bannon and Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions and crack down on H-1B visas across the board in the name of protecting American ‘civic society’ (in Bannon’s words), he’ll be gratifying the narrow populism of his most ideological supporters.”

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