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Trump’s Executive Order Promotes American Tech Workers Instead of Foreign Ones

Susan Walsh/AP

President Donald Trump is making progress on a plan to roll back visas for foreign workers, part of an effort to protect American jobs.

Trump signed an executive order Tuesday designed to make it harder for companies to hire foreign employees instead of domestic ones under the H-1B visa program, reserved for jobs requiring specific technical skills.

It’s part of Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” campaign, which aims to promote American jobs and manufacturing. The order—signed during a visit to the Kenosha, Wisc.-based Snap-on Tools manufacturing service—intends to restrict visas for high-skilled workers to the highest-paying opportunities. Visa grantees are currently selected through a lottery system.

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“With this action, we are sending a powerful signal to the world: We’re going to defend our workers, protect our jobs and finally put America first,” Trump said during that visit Tuesday.

The order also directs the Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and State departments to look into companies that might be abusing the H-1B visa program by bringing in foreign labor below market rate to replace American workers, a senior administration official said during a briefing Monday.

Many technology companies find workers through visa programs, and hundreds signed a letter of concern when drafts of the order circulated in January.

"The fact that so many startups rely on H-1B visas only serves to illustrate this fact, since no sensible, time-constrained startup would opt to rely on a bureaucratically difficult process for hiring foreign-born employees if simply hiring qualified American workers was an option," the letter said.  

Employers submitted 199,000 applications for 2018, down from 236,000 last year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said, according to Bloomberg

The executive action joins several Congressional efforts to restrict the H-1B visa program. Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., reintroduced the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, which would direct USCIS to prioritize the applicants who were educated in the U.S. or who have advanced degrees. That bill is an effort to prevent companies from “displac[ing] qualified American workers” and would also protect “foreign workers from exploitation,” Durbin said in a statement.

The Protect and Grow American Jobs Act, introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, would require employers to pay “sufficiently high wages” to H-1B visa holders.

And Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has introduced an innovation agenda that intends to protect the U.S. tech sector, potentially by introducing caps on the number of H-1B visas granted to one employer.

Hatch had previously introduced legislation that would increase that cap, but a "handful of bad actors has created a great deal of unease about H-1B visas by misusing the system to offshore jobs to foreign workers," he said in remarks in February. Some companies "file for way more H-1B visas than they need, squeezing smaller players out of the picture," he argued then. "We cannot allow this small number of bad actors to wreck the system for the responsible companies."

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