Executive Order Affecting Foreign Workers

By Jaedeok Hong ‘19

President Trump signed an order on Tuesday that he said would favor American companies for federal contracts and reform the visa program for foreign technical workers. The order calls for a modest adjustment, like a multiagency report on changes needed for the H-1B program, under which the government admits 85,000 foreign workers annually, many of them in the high-tech, industrial, medical, and science fields. The reform would change the lottery system for awarding H-1B visas, giving extra preference to the highest-paying jobs.

This order lies directly with Trump’s “America First” campaign theme and will be used to end the “theft of American prosperity” that has been brought on by low-wage immigrant labor, according to Trump. He has been critical of the H-1B program and how employers were abusing it to avoid hiring higher-paid American counterparts. H-1B visas “should include only the most skilled and highest-paid applicants and should never, ever be used to replace American workers,” Trump said during his signing event.

In recent years, there has been so much demand for H-1B visas that the whole fiscal year’s allocation ran out in a few days in April, when applications are accepted. The visas are then awarded by lottery to qualified applicants. Some 600,000 to 900,000 immigrants are currently under the visas.

Who would this order hurt? It would likely hurt the biggest users of the visa program, technology outsourcing firms that bring foreign workers to the United States to perform technical jobs, typically from India. In fact, the top 13 of which accounted for a third of all granted visas in 2014 were outsourcing firms, and the top recipients were Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro, all from India.

As if this executive order had been anticipated, the number of applicants for H1-B visas fell to 199,000 this year, a nearly 20 percent decline, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services. Also, the number of undergraduate applications from India fell at 26 percent of United States educational institutions, and 15 percent of graduate programs, which means that the anticipation has been deterring prospective students from entering the United States.

In addition, the order is expected to hurt small companies and new start-ups. Small companies cannot afford to pay high salaries and are already struggling to attract talent in a tight market. A visa system that favors the highest-paid workers will steer immigrants only to already successful big companies like Google. And according to Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, “half of the start-ups in Silicon Valley were created by highly skilled people from other countries, [and] I don’t think the president… fully appreciates that fact.”

Unfortunately, the executive order that has been signed this Tuesday is only the start. The president has further plans to prioritize on “America First,” and next time, it could be the reduction of the number of H-1B visas admitted. As seen with India, applications to the United States from foreigners will begin to decline as well. Is this the beginning of the brain drainage of America?










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