President Trump’s Feb. 28 speech to a joint session of Congress was light on details concerning his plans for immigration reform. However, the buzz around Washington in recent weeks signals that revamping the H-1B visa process is an issue the administration is eager to address.
H-1B visas are designed to make it easier for U.S. employers to hire highly skilled foreign workers, ostensibly for jobs they cannot otherwise fill. This year, employers will seek visas for almost 250,000 workers, most of them in the high-tech sector. However, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will only issue about 85,000 H-1Bs this year, via a lottery that ends April 1.
During the presidential campaign last year, Trump decried the H-1B system for taking jobs from U.S. workers. His campaign website vowed to “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program.”
Trump businesses have brought in “more than two dozen foreign employees on H-1B visas since 2011,” according to a Reuters analysis of Department of Labor data.
Details on the Trump administration’s plans for H-1B reform have been vague, although officials have advocated scrapping the lottery system that decides who will receive the visas. Instead, H-1Bs would go only to employees immigrating to fill very high-paying jobs, on the theory that such a sorting system would displace fewer American workers.
Currently, workers sponsored by tech outsourcing firms—many based in India—receive most H-1B visas. Often foreign-born graduates of U.S. universities, those workers typically are assigned to Silicon Valley companies to work for lower pay than U.S. citizens usually earn.