Thu, Apr 20, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Trump orders review of visa program

MERIT-BASED SYSTEM:Democrats criticized the president’s order, saying it was not strong enough and too late, after thousands of H-1B visas were awarded this month

Reuters, KENOSHA, Wisconsin

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday ordered a review of the US visa program for bringing highly skilled foreign workers into the nation, putting technology firms and the outsourcing companies that serve them on notice that possible changes might be ahead.

Seeking to carry out a campaign pledge to put “America First,” Trump signed an executive order on the H-1B visa program.

It was vague on many fronts and did not change existing rules, but one objective, said Trump aides, is to modify or replace the current lottery for H-1B visas with a merit-based system that would restrict the visas to highly skilled workers.

Indian nationals are the largest group of H-1B recipients annually.

Such a change could affect companies such as Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Cognizant Tech Solutions Corp and Infosys Ltd, that connect US technology companies with thousands of foreign engineers and programmers. None responded to requests for comment.

Trump announced the order and made remarks at a visit to the headquarters of Snap-On Inc, a tool maker in Wisconsin.

In addition to addressing the visas issue, he also ordered a review of government procurement rules favoring US companies to see if they are actually benefiting, especially the US steel industry.

“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.

Trump was a businessman before he was elected president last year and his companies have been criticized for using visa programs to fill positions with foreign workers. Trump-branded products are also made overseas.

As he nears the 100-day benchmark of his presidency, Trump still has no major legislative achievements. With his attempts to overhaul healthcare and tax law stalled in US Congress, Trump has leaned heavily on executive orders to change policy.

It was unclear whether the latest such order would yield immediate results. The H-1B visas section included no definite time line. The government procurement section did.

“We hope the goal of President Trump’s executive order on the H-1B program is ‘mend it, don’t end it,’” said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a technology industry group.

Going to a more merit-based H-1B system could attract more people with advanced science and technology skills, Atkinson said in a statement.

However, Atkinson said some ideas could make the system ineffective, such as requiring advertisement of job openings for long periods to prove the unavailability of American workers.

Democrats said Trump’s order was not strong enough and too late, after thousands of visas were awarded this month.

“For a president who has prided himself on his swift action when it comes to immigration, an interagency review of the program is a guarded and timid approach. It’s too little, too late,” Democratic US Senator Dick Durbin said.

Critics of the program say most H-1B visas are awarded for lower-paid jobs at outsourcing firms. That takes work away from Americans, lowers wages and keeps Americans from being trained in technology-related fields, they say.

“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,” Trump said.

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