US President Donald Trump will sign an executive order on Tuesday for a full review of the H-1B visa programme for high-skilled foreign workers and to seek recommendations on preventing it from being used to displace Americans.
The order, which Trump is expected to sign during a visit to a manufacturing facility in Wisconsin state, will direct the departments of justice, labour, state and homeland security to suggest reforms and ways to prevent “fraud and abuse”.
Called the “Buy American, Hire American” order, it will also direct a review of the government’s procurement rules to ensure they give preference to American-made products, two senior administration officials said while previewing the order.
The order on the H-1B visa scheme will call for “strict enforcement of all laws governing entry into the United States of labour from abroad for the stated purpose of creating higher wages and higher employment rates for workers”, one of the officials said.
The US grants 85,000 temporary visas every year to high-skilled foreigners — 65,000 hired from abroad and the rest from among foreigners enrolled in advanced studies in American colleges.
The programme has been criticised by those who argue it is being used by companies, specially outsourcing firms, to bring foreigners on low wages, and not necessarily high-skilled professionals who eventually end up displacing locals.
Indians are by far the largest recipients of these visas — 70% in 2015 — and Indian outsourcing firms, who bring them to the US, have found themselves under withering scrutiny and criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.
As a candidate for the White House, Trump, who has admitted to using H-1Bs for his own businesses, said the system was broken and that he favoured suspending it temporarily, for a year or so, for a full review and finding ways to fix it.
Many in his inner circle of advisers have been outspoken critics of the programme and have suggested reducing the annual cap from 85,000 — attorney general Jeff Sessions had even moved a bill to this effect as senator.
There were suggestions also to introduce changes that would make it harder for companies to bring in low-wage foreigners — 80% of those granted the visas, said the official previewing the order, were paid less than the median for their field.
The administration has begun to address that issue with the USCIS, which runs the H-1B programme, changing the definition earlier in April of “speciality occupation” to exclude computer programmers without additional skills.
The USCIS — US Citizenship and Immigration Services — also issued a warning to employers to not discriminate against Americans and said it would “take a more targeted approach when making site visits”. And the department of justice, now headed by Sessions, set up a hotline for people who feared they were being discriminated against.
The department said it “will not tolerate employers misusing the H-1B visa process to discriminate against US workers. US workers should not be placed in a disfavoured status, and the department is wholeheartedly committed to investigating and vigorously prosecuting these claims”.