Technology & Science

Trump ponders new rules for H1-B visa that brings in tech workers

President Donald Trump’s administration is preparing a new executive order that could change rules for the H1-B visa, the work permit used by Silicon Valley to hire thousands of workers.

Tussle over visa for highly skilled workers could set up clash with Silicon Valley

Employees of Tata Consultancy Services work inside the company headquarters in Mumbai. Outsourcing companies like Tata get the bulk of the H1-B visas in the U.S., a work visa program that may soon be changed by the Trump administration. (Reuters)

President Donald Trump's administration is preparing a new executive order that could change rules for the H1-B visa, the work permit used by Silicon Valley to hire thousands of workers.

Reuters is reporting the order is in draft form, even as technology executives scramble to set up a consultation with the president.

The draft executive order would demand tech companies prove they tried to hire an American first and if they recruit foreign workers, priority would be given to the most highly paid.

Silicon Valley executives have already spoken out against the executive order signed last week that restricted travellers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, an order that affected even those who hold green cards and legal work visas.

But a tightening of the H1-B visa process could set up a clash between some of the U.S. most influential companies and the new administration.

The H1-B visa, awarded under a lottery system, was originally established to help U.S. companies recruit from abroad when they couldn't find qualified local workers.

There is a cap of 85,000 a year on the number of such visas issued. But thousands of them have gone to Indian outsourcing companies such as Tata Consultancy, Infosys and Wipro Ltd. that bring in cheaper Indian workers so companies can outsource their IT departments.

Jobs for Americans first

Companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and smaller Silicon Valley players also use the visas to hire skilled technology workers. Some companies have complained that outsourcing firms get the lion's share.

But with skilled technology workers in high demand, the big companies say they need a way to bring people from outside the country when no qualified Americans are available.

According to Bloomberg, the draft executive order reads, in part:

"Visa programs for foreign workers … should be administered in a manner that protects the civil rights of American workers and current lawful residents, and that prioritizes the protection of American workers — our forgotten working people — and the jobs they hold."

That would be consistent with Trump's campaign promise to put Americans first in hiring.

Congress is also making plans to change the H1-B visa with draft legislation to focus the visa on the most highly skilled workers.

Visas seen as 'misused'

Jeff Sessions, United States president-elect Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, has said he would be pushing legislative measures to curb the "misuse" of H-1B and L-1 work visas. He put forward legislation last year that would have curbed use of the visas.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk is seeking amendments to the immigration law. (Francois Mori/Associated Press)

The draft executive order also affects the L-1 visa used to bring in executives and managers for short periods, the E-2 visa for investors and the B-1 visa for business people.

Highly skilled Canadians work in the U.S. with the TN-1 visa, which cannot be changed unless or until there are changes to North American Free Trade Agreement.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who is part of a Trump advisory board, is crowdsourcing a consensus from business leaders on amendments to the immigration ban already imposed, which affects people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.

The National Foundation for American Policy, an Arlington, Va.-based think-tank, has argued changes to the H1-B visa would undermine the ability of U.S. companies to innovate and create jobs.

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