President Trump recently issued an Executive Order called “Buy American and Hire American,” requiring certain federal agency heads to suggest reforms to the H-1B visa program including how - and to whom - these visas are awarded. (Additional coverage of this development is available here).
H-1B visas are offered to foreign workers who are coming to the United States temporarily to perform services in a “specialty occupation,” and typically require the applicants to have highly specific knowledge and a specialized degree. The White House has asserted that the H-1B program is harmful to Americans because companies routinely pay H-1B workers below-market rates, which makes it more likely that these visa holders will replace similarly qualified American workers.
Reaction to this Executive Order from the business community – and particularly the tech industry – has been cautious. The tech industry, which is the most reliant on the H-1B program, has contended that this order will impede their ability to attract and retain top talent. The industry has assertedthat a visa program that favors higher-paid workers will give larger, more established companies an advantage. Silicon Valley leaders have pointed to the large number of employees that are foreign born, arguingthat immigration is an economic benefit, not a burden. The industry has also asserted that the H-1B program is essential to their ability to keep foreign high-tech students with unique qualifications in the US after getting their degrees, and that there is a shortage of qualified Americans for these jobs.
Specific implications from this Executive Order remain to be seen, but it is fair to say that those companies that have traditionally benefited from the H-1B program will be paying close attention to the reforms recommended by federal agencies.