In his first 100 days, President Trump has had immigration policy reform squarely in his sights. While his first attempt at moderating immigrants – in banning those from seven countries – was unsuccessful, his focus toward H1-B visas has picked up steam.
On April 18, Trump signed the executive order “Buy American, Hire American,” which may curtail immigration hiring practices for highly skilled workers. The reforms stem from widespread concerns that the current H-1B policies allow companies to higher relatively cheap labor through foreign channels. By allowing lower-cost employees to enter the U.S. legally, the argument goes, American workers are being displaced from higher paying positions.
Trump’s immigration policy requires federal agencies, including the Departments of State, Labor, Justice and Homeland Security, to tighten restrictions on H-1B visas and take a more active role in reducing fraud. The goal is to return the practice closer to its original mission of granting these visas to only the most skilled and highest-paid workers, specifically in situations where American applicants are not highly skilled enough to meet job requirements. With the minimum salary requirement for many H-1B employees currently set at $60,000, proponents of the measure argue that the majority of these workers are underpaid and are not truly specialized enough to be granted these visas.
As part of this directive, the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced changes to its H-1B requirements. Applicants seeking computer programming positions in the U.S. may be under more scrutiny and must demonstrate more specialization and professional degrees. In addition, companies whose workforce is comprised of 15 percent of H-1B visa-holders and more will face tougher screening measures to ensure compliance. They also suspended premium processing for six months for H-1B applications. Finally, the U.S. Department of Labor announced higher penalties for those violating these laws.
This year, the H-1B lottery reached its quota in just five days, generating a total of three times the number of applications as the USCIS actually granted last year. Still, the final application number of 199,000 is down significantly from last year’s pool of 236,000.
“The decline is not because of waning demand but because of increasing frustration with the system,” said Dick Burke, CEO of Envoy. “The skills gap is real. To pretend it’s not real is foolish.” He believes that a crackdown on salary abuses in the H-1B system could help free up visas for other employers who are currently getting squeezed out.
Another potential boost to American jobs – primarily in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors this time – was Trump’s last-minute reversal of his promise to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). While the president had rallied his troops around this message during the campaign, his team reportedly remained divided on the issue. After discussions with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, The Washington Post reports that Trump became convinced that areas of the U.S. encompassing some of his strongest supporters would experience tremendous business losses should the country withdraw from NAFTA.
Changes are happening quickly under President Trump’s watch in the area of immigration policy reform. We will continue to keep you informed as these developments continue to unfold.
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