Visa woes for techies: Donald Trump orders review of H-1B programme

Posted April 20, 2017

Colleges fear that, as with his previous orders banning travel from some majority-Muslim nations, the president's latest move could deter foreign students from seeking to enroll on American campuses. The Trump administration on Tuesday joined the fray with a long-anticipated executive order that provides little insight into how the H-1B visa program would be reformed, or when.

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"We already know H-1B visa abuse hurts American workers".

The tech industry has argued that the H-1B program is needed because it encourages students to stay in the US after getting degrees in high-tech specialties — and because companies can't always find enough American workers with the skills they need.

What Snap-on is doing is perfectly legal - and illustrates a key problem critics, including Trump himself, have with the current H-1B visa program: the legal minimum companies must pay H-1B workers, known as the "local prevailing wage", are set at levels well-below the average of what most workers in similar positions in the USA earn.

Technology leaders say they have been unable to get as many visas as they need because the system is flooded with immigration applications by outsourcing companies, who generally hire lower-skilled, lower-paid technical workers.

The document will bring in major changes regarding the H1B visa program, including closing loopholes for immigration fraud and a shift from the current lottery system to a mechanism that favors higher paid and higher skilled workers.

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They included a promise to pursue more investigations of fraud and abuses and a warning to employers applying for the visas not to discriminate against United States workers.

The H-1B visa program has its place - helping companies around the country, but particularly in Silicon Valley, fill jobs for which the supply of American workers is thin.

The H-1B visa system has been criticised following high-profile examples of American workers being replaced by lower-paid foreigners through the program.

"Right now H-1B visas are awarded in a totally random lottery, and that's wrong", Trump told workers at a tool manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

The number of requests for H-1B visas declined this year by about 15 percent, or roughly 37,000 applications, but the total was still almost 200,000, far more than the 85,000 limit.

Trump, during his presidential campaign, had called for a moratorium on H1-B visas, however, the executive order does not impose any such ban. The 457 Visa programme, again favoured by Indian workers, allowed the businesses to hire from outside countries and retain them for a period of upto four years. H-1B visa applications were down substantially this year to 199,000 from a record 236,000 last year. The executive order will make reforms to raise the bar for foreign workers and will select only highly-skilled applicants.

A senior administration official explained the rationale behind the change by saying many of those visas going to contract workers from overseas force wages down in the US or completely wipe out positions for Americans.