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Trump orders overhaul of H-1B visas

Published on 19 Apr. 2017 11:50 PM IST
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In a blow to Indian IT industry and professionals, US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order 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.
Acting on his ‘Buy American, Hire American’ pledge, Trump signed the order that calls for an overhaul of the programme at the Kenosha, Wisconsin, headquarters of tool-maker Snap-on Inc yesterday.
“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 told an  enthusiastic audience in Wisconsin before signing the order.  He said the order sets in motion the first steps to initiate “long-overdue” reforms to end “visa abuses”. 
“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,” he 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.   But the New York Times noted that Trump’s announcement  came at a jittery time for the White House, as he faces the  100th day of his presidency without much to show for it in the  way of legislative accomplishment, after the defeat of his  health care overhaul. “And his two high-profile executive orders cracking down  on immigration from predominantly Muslim nations have been  stymied by the courts,” the paper pointed out.   Trump’s executive order also declares that American  projects should be made with American goods.   “No longer are we going to allow foreign countries to  cheat our producers and our workers out of federal contracts.  Everyone in my administration will be expected to enforce  every last ‘Buy American’ provision on behalf of the American worker, and we are going to investigate every single trade deal that undermines these provisions,” he said. According to the executive order, the Secretary of State,  the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labour, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall suggest reforms to help  ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or  highest-paid petition beneficiaries.  
In a statement, the White House said H-1B visas are  supposed to bring the highest skilled and paid labour to the  United States.   But according to studies, 80 per cent of the approved  applications were for the two lowest wage levels allowed.   “Currently, companies routinely abuse the H-1B visa  programme by replacing American workers with lower paid foreign workers,” it said.  
Reforming the H-1B visa system was one of the major  election promises of Trump. As per several US reports, a  majority of the H-1B visas every year are grabbed by Indian IT  professionals.   India accounts for the highest pool of qualified IT  professionals, whose services go a long way in making American  companies globally competitive.  
As mandated by the Congress, the US Citizenship and  Immigration Services (USCIS) every year issues 65,000 H-1B  visas and another 20,000 to those applicants having masters  and higher degrees from a US educational institution.   This month USCIS received 199,000 H-1B visa petitions  and as a result, the federal agency had to resort to a  computerised draw of lots to decide the fate of successful  applicant.   Betsy Lawrence, the director of government relations for  the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told CNN that,  “Although released with ceremonial flair, the order will have  no immediate impact on H-1Bs.”   “Many of the changes to the H-1B programme contemplated  by the administration would require legislative action or  rule-making and would take time to go through the necessary  processes,” he said.   Meanwhile, some US lawmakers said the executive order  signed by Trump calling for a review of H-1B visas was  too little and too late.   “This does nothing,” said Senator Charles Schumer of New  York, the Democratic leader. “Like all the other executive  orders, it’s just words - he’s calling for new studies. It’s  not going to fix the problem. It’s not going to create a  single job.”  
“We already know H-1B visa abuse hurts American  workers. Simply reviewing the programme is too little, too  late,” Senator Dick Durbin said.   US lawmakers have already tabled more than half a  dozen legislations in the Congress with specific proposals to  reform and improve the H-1B visas systems. Many of those  proposals, as per industry body Nasscom, are discriminatory  and are targeted towards Indian IT companies.   The US tech industry and corporate sector, however,  has welcomed the “much-needed” review of the H-1B visa  programme and expressed confidence that it would help them  bring in the best and the brightest from across the world.

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