President Donald Trump dealt a fresh blow to business immigration Aug. 3, issuing an executive order that bans federal agencies from hiring H-1B workers.
The order also authorizes the Department of Labor to provide policies prohibiting employers from moving H-1B workers to other employers’ job sites.
“We believe jobs must be offered to American workers first,” said Trump in the order. It would be unfair for federal employers to replace perfectly qualified Americans with workers from other countries.”
“This Executive Order will help prevent federal agencies from unfairly replacing American workers with low-cost foreign labor,” said the president. The order would require all federal agencies to complete an internal audit and assess whether they are in compliance with the requirement that only United States citizens and nationals are hired by the federal government.
That move is largely posturing, as fewer than 2,000 H-1B visa holders work for the federal government, according to a Bloomberg analysis of Labor Department data for 2019. But prohibiting employers from moving their H-1B employees to other sites may have far more damaging consequences.
Indian American immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta said the move was largely ceremonial. “This executive order does not say or do much damage to the H-1B visa program, which already has in built protections in the law and regulations,” he tweeted.
NASSCOM, the apex body for the IT industry in India, said in a press statement that Trump’s executive order was “based on misperceptions, and misinformation.” It noted that the order does not mandate any immediate changes, but instead requires reviews, reports, and development of existing policy.
“The order is particularly troubling, coming at a time when there is a huge shortage of STEM skills in the U.S., that workers on short-term non-immigrant visas like H-1B and L-1 help bridge,” said NASSCOM.
As earlier reported by India-West, NASSCOM noted that unemployment levels for IT-related occupations had actually dropped during the pandemic, from 3 percent in January 2020 to 2.5 percent in June 2020. In May, there were 625,000 active job postings for IT-related occupations, noted the organization.
“As the world opens up post the COVID-19 induced lock-downs, it is important for the U.S. to be able to access talent critical to the recovery phase. Measures that restrict access to talent will slow-down the
recovery phase of U.S. economy, jobs, innovation and R&D,” said NASSCOM.
Trump issued the order after the Tennessee Valley Authority — a federally-owned corporation created in 1933 during the Great Depression to promote provide flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing and economic development in Tennessee — announced that it was going to outsource 20 percent of its technology jobs to companies based in foreign countries, potentially displacing 200 U.S. workers. Trump said the agency’s move will result in a loss of “tens of millions of dollars” to the local economy over the next five years.
The president fired TVA chair James ‘Skip’ Thompson the same day and board member Richard Howorth; both men were appointed by Trump.
“Let this serve as a warning to any federally appointed board: ‘If you betray American workers, you will hear two words: ‘You’re fired,’” said Trump at a White House briefing announcing the executive order.
He also announced that the board must immediately seek a new CEO to replace Jeff Lyash, whom the president criticized for earning $8 million per year. He put a salary cap of $500,000 for a future TVA CEO.
“The Tennessee Valley Authority leadership ordered the American workers to train their foreign replacements, rubbing salt in their very open wound,” said the president at the briefing.
“As we speak, we’re finalizing H1-B regulations so that no American worker is replaced ever again. H1-Bs should be used for top, highly paid talent to create American jobs, not as inexpensive labor program to destroy American jobs,” said Trump.
Several TVA workers spoke at the briefing telling the president how losing their jobs to foreign workers would deeply impact their ability to provide for their families.