Business World

Thursday 19 October 2017

Trump cracks down on tech firm visas for foreign workers

Donald Trump. Photo: AP
Donald Trump. Photo: AP

Jin Cao

THE US government has started to deliver on President Donald Trump's campaign promise to crack down on a visa programme that channels thousands of skilled overseas workers to tech firms.

Fed up with a programme it says favours foreign workers at the expense of Americans, the Trump administration has rolled out a trio of policy shifts.

On Friday, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency made it harder for companies to bring overseas tech workers to the US using the H-1B visa. On Monday, the agency laid out new measures to combat "fraud and abuse" in the programme. The Justice Department also warned firms not to discriminate against US 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 labour or bringing in lower-paid foreign workers.

Silicon Valley's biggest tech companies 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there's also broad recognition that reform is needed, given several high-profile examples where American employees have been replaced by lower-paid foreign staff through the programme. Its estimated there were 460,000 people on H-1B visas in 2013.

Outsourcing firms are considered the worst abusers of the system, an impression that the tech industry has been happy to encourage. USCIS says it will focus inspections on workplaces with the largest percentage of H-1B workers, and those with employees who do IT work for other companies.

"Each of these steps are small steps by themselves," said R Chandrashekhar, president of Nasscom, which represents many India tech firms.

"What we are waiting to see is how they will tighten the process."

The changes bring more scrutiny to those for computer programmers doing the simplest jobs. "This is a step in the right direction in terms of tightening up the eligibility," said Ron Hira, an associate professor at Howard University. "You're going to have to beef up your argument for why you need this person."

Technology and outsourcing companies are the heaviest users of the H-1B visa, which is the largest programme for temporary foreign workers in the US by a wide margin.

India-based outsourcing companies receive a disproportionate percentage of the visas and tend to pay lower salaries than US-based tech firms. Employers sought H-1B visas for more than 13,000 computer programmers in 2016, citing an average salary of about $72,000 (€67,000).

Scott Corley, executive director Compete America, a coalition of employers that rely on high-skilled immigrants, said reform should be part of a broader re-assessment.

"Our outdated legal immigration system relies heavily on a single temporary visa category, the H-1B, to prove work authorisation for every kind of high-skilled foreign professional we recruit," he said. The result? "Chaos, inefficiencies, and criticism." (Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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