Experts Weigh Pros and Cons of Trump Action on H-1B Visa

President Donald Trump showing the Executive Order on “Buy American, Hire American” after signing ceremony in Wisconsin

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Washington, DC – Nations across the globe and job seekers, especially within the IT sector, were alarmed by US President Donald Trump’s recent executive order to promote the Buy American, Hire American agenda. This executive order affects how the government procures goods used in federally funded projects, in addition to the laws governing immigration and visa programs.

According to a White House statement, the H-1B visa program would issue visas to the “most skilled or highest-paid applicants,” instead of by random lottery as the visas are now allocated.

While the Executive Order signed by President Trump didn’t give enough information on the H-1B visa scenario, two senior administration officials elaborated on it in a background briefing (the full transcript here on the White House website).

The officials lamented that for too long, rather than operating as designed and allowing only the best and brightest to come in and fill key positions, the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program has been administered in a way that harms American workers. Specifically, it has led to a flood of relatively low-wage, low-skill workers in the tech sector.

India America Today covered the Trump Administration moves in a detailed report titled “H-1B Visa Only for Most Skilled and Highest Paid Applicants”, and now we reached out to stakeholders such as professors, lawyers, former H-1B visa holders and other subject matter experts, to get their perspectives on the upcoming changes in the process.

Sky Basu, entrepreneur from Silicon Valley who went through the classic immigration process from H1B to Green Card to naturalized citizenship provided his first hand experience of the process. “I have seen firsthand how workers with H1B visa contribute to the US economy. I know many entrepreneurs who came on H1B, and started companies which created hundreds of thousands of highly paid American jobs,” said Basu.

Basu agreed to the idea that the H1B workers should be paid at par with American workers and should be used to fill up gaps in the demand and supply of high skilled jobs.

“It is not surprising, that Indians being the largest users of H1B visas, are bracing for the changes. I think Indian companies should take this as an opportunity to develop the domestic market and create domestic demands for much of the same skill set,” commented Basu, adding, “Especially for the high-tech industry, they should move up in the food chain by becoming the exporter of high quality products rather than working in the staff augmentation business.”

Calling “Hire American … complicated,” Marina Whitman, professor of business administration and public policy at the University of Michigan, said, “Presumably, the comment is aimed at H-1B visas, which are for the purposes of hiring highly skilled foreigners. Where there is a genuine shortage of native Americans to do the work, such hires add to overall efficiency in the US. But when they are used, as they sometimes are, to bring in foreign workers to replace American workers, who sometimes are forced to train their replacements who will receive lower wages, that is unfair.

Professor Whitman, who is an expert on international trade and a former chief economist and first female group vice president at General Motors Corp, added, “Whether lowering the cap on the number of such visas is helpful or hurtful on balance I can’t tell without very detailed information, but raising the wage floor at which H-1B visas are permitted, as Trump has proposed, is probably a good idea, if such visas are for truly ‘highly-skilled’ people.”

Ravi Batra, New York based attorney and Chair of the US National Advisory Council South Asian Affairs said, “H1B visa brought lots of very talented folks from around the world, including, from India, to America who did excellent jobs, made inventions and formed American companies that created American jobs and American leadership in commerce – all helping grow our GDP and American exports.”

“The H1B program also had fraud and abuse – just like any program or protocol, public or private. Even welfare and food stamps is abused when the non-needy take it,” said Batra, adding, “While I applaud the executive order by President Trump to route out fraud and abuse in any governmental program, I am reminded that just because all shopkeepers have shoplifting, they don’t close the store and go out of business.”

Batra suggested, “Instead, they enhance the security system to prevent shoplifters while staying open to do more business and create more profit and more jobs.”

Commenting on the subject, Ramesh Khurana, an attorney in Maryland and Member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association said the Executive Order, “will not have an immediate bearing on the H-1B petitions. Many of the changes intended by the Trump Administration would need rule making or legislative route. Thus, it needs time to complete the processes.”

“However, additional measures contemplated by the administration to uncover fraud could be seen in action sooner than later,” agreed Khurana but noted, “Instances of H-1B frauds are in fact very low. Most petitioners of H-1B petitions do petition honestly and indeed require the skills and talent of foreign workers.”

Looking at the H-1B visa complexities, Ann Lin, associate professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, said. “One of the problems with the H-1B visa is that it was understood to be for short-term immediate disruptions in the market where suddenly we need labor,” she said. “We’re going to bring people in, but the job is going to be temporary and so they’ll be able to leave again. But we’re not using it like that. We’re using it as a way to test people, to see if they really like the US enough, to see if we like them enough to stay. That’s not a bad use of a visa but it is a really bad use of a temporary visa.

Professor Lin, who has studied the most recent federal efforts to reform immigration policies, is of the opinion: “On the one hand, each year the US gives out 65,000 high-skilled worker visas or H-1B visas which are temporary, and within a day or a week they’re all given out. On the other hand, President Trump has talked about reducing H-1B visa quotas even further because he feels they are taking away American jobs. How do we fix this problem? The answer is more permanent worker visas and to restrict H-1B visas to growth areas.”

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