What Does Trump’s Presidency Mean for the H1B Visa Program?

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In his inaugural address, President Trump touted that the country would follow the principle, “Buy American and hire American.”

What does this mean for programs like the H1B Visa program, and the issues these programs seek to address?

The H1B visa program has been specifically targeted by this sentiment. The H1B visa program allows highly skilled foreign nationals to live and work in the United States for three years with the option to extend to six years. These are non-Green Card visas, although they are visas of dual intent should the beneficiary decide to pursue a Green Card. This visa also allows these workers to bring their spouses and dependents to live in the US as well, and now allows spouses to work in certain circumstances under Obama’s recent provision.

In response to this sentiment in the White House, there were announcements to reintroduce two bills in Congress with supporters from both sides of the isle to place restrictions on the H1B program. The first bill was proposed by Republican Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley and Democratic Senator Richard Durbin. Their bill was first introduced in 2007 wherein employers would be required to make a “good faith effort” to hire American workers first. This bill would also do away with the H1B lottery that occurs when the annual visa cap is exceeded, which now happens every year. Instead, CIS would be required to prioritize high achieving foreign students who had earned degrees in the United States. Republican Representative Darrell Issa also announced to reintroduce a bill to place restrictions on the H1B program. This bill has a more limited scope than Grassley and Durbin’s bill.

How quickly could these proposed bills begin to affect the H1B visa program? Both would have to pass through both the House and Senate, and be approved by the President. However, President Trump can begin acting on his campaign and inaugural pledges right away. For example, President Obama added a provision that enables the spouses of H1B visa holders to work in the United States as well. President Trump could end that provision acting on his own with the stroke of a pen.

What are the consequences of scaling back the H1B visa program?

Let’s first take a look at why the program exists in the first place. Jobs that require highly advanced skills in math, science, technology and engineering and expanding faster than the US workforce can accommodate. US schools are not adequate at preparing students for these advanced jobs and there simply are not enough American-born workers with the skills necessary for US STEM industries to remain competitive without outsourcing through programs like H1B.

Every year, more and more H1B petitions flow in from STEM companies of all sizes. Without H1B workers, US STEM industries would suffer. These are the fastest growing and most innovative industries in the world, and without highly skilled foreign workers, the US will quickly fall behind. H1B employees create more jobs because they lead development teams that require highly skilled leadership to exist. Curtailing the H1B program would trigger the dreaded “brain drain” in the industries where top minds are needed the most.

If strengthening and expanding the US economy is the goal of this presidency, curtailing the H1B visa program is the absolute wrong thing to do. Whether or not the facts will overcome xenophobic rhetoric is yet to be seen.

This article was written by Rebecca Little

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