Trump orders changes to H-1B visa programme, not pushing legislative action

20 Apr 2017


US President Donald Trump has chosen not to push for legislative changes in the country's visa programme for technology workers. Instead, the 'Buy American and Hire American' executive order he signed on Tuesday, directs the bureaucracy to reform the visa programme.

Trump asked US secretary of state, attorney general, secretary of labour and secretary of homeland security ''to suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid beneficiaries''.

This is small relief for India's $150-billion outsourcing industry, which has been tapping Indian engineers to keep costs low and gain price advantage in their overseas operations.

''Nothing is being proposed that would impact or change the fiscal 2018 H-1B lottery that is currently underway. The proposed changes are forward-looking and non-specific,'' said the industry body National Association of Software and Services Companies in a statement.

Trump's executive order calls for tightening the rules of the H-1B visa programme to stop its "abuse" and ensure that the visas are given to the "most-skilled or highest paid" petitioners.

"Right now, widespread abuse in our immigration system is allowing American workers of all backgrounds to be replaced by workers brought in from other countries to fill the same job for, sometimes, less pay. This will stop," Trump said before signing the order in Wisconsin.

There are four bills proposed in the US related to H-1B reforms, six related to outsourcing and three that deal with immigration.

Industry experts too were of the view that Tuesday's executive orders were ''not as bad as expected''. Phil Fersht, CEO of research firm Horses for Sources, told The Economic Times the order is ''very good news'' for the IT industry.

Trump has now asked the administration to tighten visa rules, instead of forcing through draconian legislation.

Under the new terms, there will be a minimum increase in minimum annual wage to $130,000 for a skilled engineer in the US, which could cripple Indian IT's competitiveness in the US.

The current H-1B programme, which is lottery-based, allows a maximum of 65,000 visas for the general category and a further 20,000 for people who have a US master's degree from an accredited institution.

"Right now, H-1B visas are awarded in a totally random lottery, and that's wrong. Instead, they should be given to the most skilled and highest-paid applicants, and they should never, ever be used to replace Americans," Trump asserted.

"No one can compete with American workers when they're given a fair and level playing field, which has not happened for decades," he said.

Trump said his administration is going to enforce 'Hire American' rules that are designed to protect jobs and wages of workers in the United States.

"We believe jobs must be offered to American workers first. Does that make sense?" he said.

The application cap for financial year 2018 was reached within four days of the lottery opening this year.

Indian IT companies have been accused of misusing the H-1B visa regime, which they have consistently denied.

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