United States President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order introducing changes to the H-1B temporary visa scheme used by companies to hire foreigners for high-skilled jobs. The businessman-turned politician signed the order, which is being dubbed the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order, as he visited the global headquarters of tool manufacturing firm Snap-On Inc in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The new order asks the four federal departments of labour, justice, homeland security and state to crack down on alleged “fraud and abuse” in the immigration system in order to protect American workers. It urges these departments to propose reforms to ensure H-1B visas are awarded to the most skilled or highest paid applicant, reported Reuters.
“We’re going to defend our workers, protect our jobs and finally put America first,” the US president said. Trump also promised to either replace or modify the current lottery-based selection process for H-1B visas. “Right now, H-1B visas are awarded in a totally random lottery and that’s wrong,” he added.
Trump had promised his voters that he would overhaul the H-1B visa system to provide more jobs to Americans, whom he said were losing employment opportunities to “foreigners”. The new order poses particular problems for India, which sends the maximum H-1B workers to the US. It makes it difficult for entry-level computer programmers to get the work permit.
US authorities will also conduct site visits to check on employers who hire H-1B visa holders over Americans. Checks will be carried out in cases where the immigration department cannot validate the employer’s basic business information through available data. Employers petitioning for H-1B workers who work off-site will also be under the lens, according to the new rules.
Trump has also used his “buy American and hire American” premise to bring in changes in government procurement practices, reported The Guardian. Henceforth, officials will review waivers in free-trade agreements to check if it is leading to unfair trade. “If it turns out America is a net loser because of those free-trade agreement waivers, which apply to almost 60 countries, these waivers may be promptly renegotiated or revoked,” an official told Reuters.
The order comes at a time when the number of applications for H-1B work visas has declined for the first time in five years. On Tuesday, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services said it had received 1.99 lakh H-1B petitions for 2018 within five days of opening the visa applications on April 3. The last time it was below 2 lakh was in 2014, though even in that year, the number of applications grew from 2013. In 2016, the USCIS had received 236,000 applications. The number of applications received for the H-1B visas had been increasing since 2013.
In March, the US had suspended the premium processing option for H-1B visas, which allowed companies to bring in highly skilled workers in a few weeks, rather than several months, if they paid an additional amount. A large number of technology companies, among other industries, relied on premium processing to bring in skilled engineers to the US.