President Donald Trump is currently considering an executive order that would make sweeping changes to highly-skilled foreign worker visa programs, including H-1B visas.
A leaked draft of the executive order titled “Protecting American jobs and workers by strengthening the integrity of foreign worker visa programs” appeared on the New York Times Web site Jan. 27.
“With this executive order, President Trump will help fulfill several campaign promises by aligning immigration policies with the national interest, and ensuring that officials administer our laws in a manner that prioritizes the interests of American workers and – to the maximum degree possible – the jobs, wages, and well-being of those workers,” read the draft order, signed by Andrew Bremberg, assistant to the president and the director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House.
Bremberg unfathomably focused on undocumented immigration in his preamble to the order, and also incomprehensively mentioned the impact of highly-skilled foreign worker programs on “low-skilled, teenage, and African American and Hispanic workers.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from Northern California’s Silicon Valley, also introduced legislation in the House last week, mandating that H-1B workers be paid a minimum wage of $130,000, to curtail what she called “the abuse of the work visa program.”
Shares of top Indian IT companies sank Jan. 31 in response to news of the re-formatting of the H-1B program. A total of 65,000 H-1B visas are allocated each year, with about 70 percent going to Indians. The H-1B visa allows American employers to hire highly-skilled foreign workers for a two-year period, which can be renewed.
Indian American immigration attorney Kalpana Peddibhotla, who handles a large number of H-1B applications each year, told India-West she has already seen a drop in applicants.
Trump’s “Buy American, Hire Americans” campaign slogan has had a chilling effect on Indian nationals willing to travel to the U.S. for temporary work. “It is not a drop in need, it is a drop in the number of people willing to fill those needs,” said the Newark, Calif.-based attorney.
Peddibhotla said there were several paragraphs of “unsettling language” in the six page order, particularly a directive that would mandate the Department of Homeland Security to “ensure that beneficiaries of the program are the best and the brightest.”
The attorney said this was troubling, as it invites government oversight into private employers’ hiring decisions. “It imposes a lot of ambiguous language on employers,” she said.
Furthermore, she told India-West, the term “national interest” is vague, and not defined in the order, noting that the order mandates DHS within 90 days to determine whether foreign worker programs violate prevailing immigration laws and are not in the national interest.
The text of the order does not impose an immediate freeze on the number of H-1B visas issued this year, but Peddibhotla said the language suggests there will be a reduction in the number of visas issued in future years.
Peddibhotla said the continuance of work authorization for some H-4 spouses of H-1B visa holders is uncertain and undefined in the draft order. At a press briefing Jan. 30, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters: “You’ve already seen a lot of action on immigration and I think whether it’s that or the spousal visas or other types of visas, I think there’s an overall need to look at these programs. You’ll see both through executive action and through comprehensive measures a way to address immigration as a whole.”
A reform of the optional practical training program – which allows STEM students to train in the U.S. after obtaining a degree at an American college – may include a shorter period of stay, said Peddibhotla.
“The proposed order will have a hugely detrimental effect on the U.S. economy. Congress has already identified that we need highly-skilled foreign workers,” added Peddibhotla.
The H-1B program is a "critical source of legal, skilled labor for the U.S. economy," said Venky Ganesan, managing director of Menlo Ventures, in an interview with USA Today. "Many who came to the U.S. via H-1B visas end up starting companies in the U.S."
"The best way to create jobs in America is to create companies in America," said Ganesan.
Maryland-based immigration attorney Sheela Murthy released a statement Jan. 30 on the proposed executive order, concluding that work authorization for H-4 visa holders would likely be in jeopardy. Steps would also be taken to curtail some of the benefits of the OPT program, the Indian American lawyer said.
Murthy noted that the mandate “would not have a direct impact on the H-1B program, but it would pave the way for changes to come in the future.”