On Tuesday, Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order supporting his campaign promise to “buy American and hire American” that will require government agencies crack down on immigration fraud and make it harder for foreign workers to obtain H1-B visas.
According to Politico, the order will require government agencies to “re-examine all programs that govern the entry of foreign labor into the United States,” order the Departments of Justice, Labor, State, and Homeland Security to clamp down on “fraud and abuse” within the immigration system, and, per the AP, grant H1-B work visas to only the “most-skilled or highest-paid applicants.”
It’s unclear what specific policy changes the government would implement, but the Washington Post reports that it could include “raising the visa application fees, adjusting the wage scale to more accurately reflect prevailing salaries in the tech industry, and more vigorously enforcing violations,” along with favoring foreigners with master’s degrees.
There is bipartisan agreement that the H1-B visa program is in need of reform. Congress introduced the H1-B visa in 1990 as a way to attract college-educated foreign talent, like scientists, doctors, and other graduate degree-holders, to America, and ultimately offer them a path to citizenship. However, critics argue that companies exploit the program and use it to replace American jobs with cheaper labor from overseas. On top of that, according to the Economic Policy Institute, employers rarely extend permanent residency or citizenship to visa holders, and often pay them below local market value. Companies say they rely on these visas to bring in skilled workers they can’t find in the US. The federal government grants about 85,000 H1-B visas a year, with a large percentage going to people from India.
There is plenty of reason, however, to be wary of the idea that Trump—whose chief strategist is a guy who complains about too many Asians in Silicon Valley—could be the champion of responsible change within the labor force. The vague directives on worker visas may very well exacerbate a “brain drain” of foreign (and mostly brown-skinned) talent. They are also consistent with his broader anti-immigration agenda, which has created uncertainty and confusion for many nonwhite immigrants and has discouraged foreigners from visiting the US. According to numbers released by US Citizenship and Immigration Services on Monday, the number of H1-B visa applications declined for the first time since 2013, hitting its lowest point since 2014.
Also, just a reminder that America’s public schools are now run by grizzly whisperer and “Secretary of Educatuon” Betsy DeVos, which does not inspire much confidence that the next generation of America’s workforce will have the tools they need to succeed.