President-elect Donald Trump will be tough on immigration as he promised on the campaign trail, but his priority in office will not be a wall along the border with Mexico but visa violations that cause loss of American jobs. Read H-1B.
“On immigration, I will direct the Department of Labor to investigate all abuses of visa programmes that undercut the American worker,” Trump said in a video posted on YouTube on Monday detailing his 100-day plan.
The president-elect did not elaborate, and neither did his campaign, but he and his top advisers including Senator Jeff Sessions, who will be his attorney general, have railed against H-1B related displacement of Americans.
In his first 100 days, Trump will also pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, remove environment-related restrictions on energy production, cut regulations, seek a plan to defend the US from cyber and other attacks, and cut officials’ route to lobbying.
But it’s the crackdown on visa violations that will be watched closely by India, which considers this a trade issue not related to immigration, and Indian outsourcing companies with substantial operations in the US.
US-based companies can bring temporary skilled and unskilled foreign workers on H-1B (highly skilled), H-2A (agricultural workers), H-2B (seasonal, non-agricultural workers) and L-1A and L-1B (professionals on transfer) visa categories.
H-1B has become a lightning rod in recent years with temporary foreign workers replacing locals because of wage differentials, with emotions rising after every new report of firings, also of locals being forced to train their replacements.
Trump told Hindustan Times in October he understands the US needs skilled workers, and he has used this programme himself, but “at the same time we have to take care of American jobs and I have always said America first at all levels.”
He had told Breitbart News in December 2015, “If I am President, I will not issue any H-1B visas to companies that replace American workers and my Department of Justice will pursue action against them.”
The context of this remark was the displacement of 250 workers from Disneyland’s Orlando facility by workers brought from India by outsourcing giants HCL and Cognizant; and other instances of H-1B-related firings.
The labour department launched investigations into the Disneyland displacement, and at a California power utility company — also by Indian workers, of the kind the president-elect has threatened to order when in office.
Sessions, as a close and trusted adviser, will likely be pushing hard as well. As senator, he had introduced a bill proposing to make it prohibitively expensive for American employers to bring foreign workers under the H-1B programme.
And he had co-sponsored a legislation that sought to cut the annual cap on H-1B visas from 65,000 (plus 20,000 issued to foreigners already in the US, enrolled in colleges and universities, so 85,000 in all) to 50,000.
There is bipartisan support for steps to prevent H-1B related displacements. Democratic senator Dick Durbin joined Sessions to write to departments of justice, labor and homeland security in 2015 seeking investigation into H-1B “abuse”.