Draft Trump order homes in on foreign tech worker visas
Mon 30 Jan 2017
A draft executive order from the President of the United States is promising early action on Donald Trump’s campaign promises to overhaul the controversial state of the H1B (and other) visas granted yearly to technology companies – and which have been accused of facilitating stealthy outsourcing and the loss of jobs for U.S. residents.
The draft, seen by Bloomberg, states:
‘Our country’s immigration policies should be designed and implemented to serve, first and foremost, the U.S. national interest…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.’
Details of proposed changes to current legislation are not outlined yet, but the order is said to cover a raft of visa categories including H-1B, L-1, E-2 and B1.
The H-1B visa is designed to allow tech companies to hire from abroad in situations where suitable quality candidates cannot be found in the United States, relating to a position ‘so complex or unique that it can only be performed by someone with at least a bachelor’s degree in a field related to the position’ (Interestingly the visa also allows provision for ‘notable fashion models’ to be employed within the U.S. , apparently because this category of worker had been excluded by mistake from more appropriate visa categories).
The H-1B visa is tied to a specific offer of employment, and anecdotal reports indicate that H-1B workers, deprived of easy recourse to accept other jobs in the U.S., can often be asked to work longer hours, or to accept lower salaries or worse working conditions than equivalently-hired native workers might expect.
Trump’s official policy on the matter refers to the most controversial case of H-1B ‘substitution’ in recent years – when in 2015 Disney forced sacked IT employees to train up their foreign-sourced H-1B replacements as a condition of final payment. Trump’s policy reads:
‘The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay. I remain totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse and ending outrageous practices such as those that occurred at Disney in Florida when Americans were forced to train their foreign replacements. I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.’
In October of 2016 a district court in Orlando dismissed a suit from aggrieved technology workers at Disney questioning whether Disney had abused the H-1B program for profit; however the judge conceded that the American workers were adversely affected by the dismissals, and the case became emblematic of a perceived outsourcing crisis which Trump went on to leverage in his presidential campaign throughout 2016.