04/04/2017

Trump Cracks Down On H-1B Visa Program That Feeds Silicon Valley [Watch]

Jing Cao and Joshua Brustein, Bloombergy Technology

  • U.S. toughens H-1B applications for overseas programmers

  • Tech and outsourcing companies depend on the visas for talent

The U.S. administration began to deliver on President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to crack down on a work visa program that channels thousands of skilled overseas workers to companies across the technology industry.

Fed up with a program it says favors foreign workers at the expense of Americans, the Trump administration rolled out a trio of policy shifts. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency on Friday made it harder for companies to bring overseas tech workers to the U.S. using the H-1B work visa. On Monday, the agency issued a memo laying out new measures to combat what it called "fraud and abuse" in the program. The Justice Department also warned employers applying for the visas not to discriminate against U.S. workers.

Trump campaigned on a promise to overhaul the immigration system, calling for companies to hire more Americans instead of outsourcing jobs to countries with cheaper labor or bringing in lower-paid foreign workers. Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies, many of which were founded or run by immigrants, depend on H-1Bs and say efforts to thwart immigration threaten innovation, recruitment and startup formation. Trump’s executive orders restricting travel from a handful of Muslim-majority nations led to unprecedented opposition from the industry.

But there’s also broad recognition that reform is needed, given several high-profile examples where American employees have been replaced by lower-paid foreign workers through the program. Advocates for immigrants’ rights also argue H-1B workers are easily exploited because their legal status is tied to a particular employer. The Economic Policy Institute estimated there were about 460,000 people working on H-1B visas in 2013.

This week’s moves weren’t the administration’s first attempts to adjust the program. Last month, the immigration department suspended a system that expedited visa processing for certain skilled workers who paid extra. But people who have been pushing for reform had become frustrated in recent weeks that the Trump administration wasn’t moving fast enough.

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