Washington, DC – The White House on Monday (April 17) outlined “historic” measures which would be strictly enforced by a number of reforms, listed in an Executive Order to be signed tomorrow (April 18) in Wisconsin by President Donald Trump. These measures are to ensure that US workers who are just as qualified, willing and deserving to work in these fields are not ignored or otherwise unfairly disadvantaged in the H-1B process.
At a background briefing in the Brady Press room of the White House, two senior White House officials told journalists that the Executive Order will propagate a signature policy of Trump Administration, “Buy American and Hire American,” which they termed as the essence of the “America First” policy.
Citing numerous speeches of President Trump, including February remarks to Congress, a senior White House official noted that the president has made it clear that the Trump Administration will follow two simple rules when spending taxpayer dollars on government procurement and federally-funded projects: Buy American and Hire American.
Hire American and Stop H-1B Visa Abuse
Giving a glimpse into the President’s vision, the officials said, “The President believes that the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program must serve the national interest. And he is taking action to ensure that it does.”
The Executive Order will call for the Departments of Labor, Homeland Security (DHS), State, and Justice (DOJ) to initiate prompt action to end the abuse of work visa programs that have harmed American workers.
The ongoing H1B visa program for skilled workers comes under special focus with this Executive Order. It will call upon the above Agencies to propose reforms to the H-1B program, in order to conform the program back to its original intent, by awarding visas to the most skilled and highest paid applicants.
But when asked to comment on the time frame to finalize the reforms and their implementation, the official said the policy outlined in the Executive Order will go into force as soon as it is signed on Tuesday by President Trump.
Noting that the reforms are long over due and are called for by America’s labor unions and labor community, the order will reiterate to the federal agencies “to fully enforce the laws governing the entry of foreign workers into the United States economy in order to promote rising wages and higher employment rates — including for millions of disadvantaged minority workers who are among those displaced by the improper use of guest worker programs.”
Outlining the proposals, one senior White House official said the preliminary factor for decision making can be “wages,” as the lion’s share of visas currently go to “outsourcing firms,” that pay workers below the market rate and have been associated with many recent displacement scandals.
The official said that only around 5 percent of workers on H-1B get top wage above the median while around 80 percent are paid less than the median wage and 10 percent get the median wage. The official added that only about 6 percent of H-1B visas go to the top skill level recognized by the Department of Labor.
The order will prevent the program from being used to displace American workers — “a tragic but all-too common phenomenon recently highlighted in the 60 minutes Special on the program.”
One of the other factors, under consideration for reforming the H-1B visa problem is increasing the application fee noted the official, adding that all departments are directed to “do, all they can do,” to enforce the policy immediately. The ongoing “H-1B lottery system” is set to see the door, and instead more robust procedures will be implemented to scrutinize applicants and ensure only the best and highest paid are admitted under this program.
The officials lamented that for too long, rather than operating as designed and allowing only the best and brightest to come in and fill key positions, the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program has been administered in a way that harms American workers. Specifically, it has led to a flood of relatively low-wage, low-skill workers in the tech sector.
The net effect has been to crowd out American workers, and in some cases, to the direct and indirect replacement of American workers with cheaper labor from abroad. Moreover, sometimes, American workers have even been forced to train their foreign replacements, noted the official.
Highlighting recent steps taken by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency within the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the White House listed those as including:
Taking a more targeted approach when making compliance site visits across the country to focus resources where fraud and abuse of the H-1B program may be more likely to occur;
Establishing an H-1B abuse tip line to hear directly from American and foreign workers who may have information to share about program abuse and violations; and
Rescinding an outdated memorandum to prevent inconsistencies in H-1B and H-1B1 adjudications.
Buy American and Enhance American Sectors
On the other part of the Executive Order, senior White House officials stressed the policy is to end the “abuse of waivers in the Buy American law” that have been used to undermine American industry and bypass American manufacturing.
Calling it “a new, more muscular Buy American policy,” the official said it will be based on the twin pillars of maximizing ‘Made in America’ content and minimizing waivers and exceptions to ‘Buy American’ laws.
The Secretary of Commerce will be responsible for coordinating efforts of all the agencies to conduct top-to-bottom assessments aimed squarely at cracking down on weak monitoring, enforcement, and compliance efforts and at rooting out every single Buy American loophole. The secretary will then advise the President on how to promptly close these loopholes.
The Executive Order will provide renegotiations or revoking of free trade agreements (almost 60 countries) for waivers if it turns out that America is a “net loser,” the White House cautioned, adding that a stern look will be taken at the $4.4 trillion global government procurement market.
Also the Buy American bidding process will take into account the flagrant use of unfair trade practices like dumping and injurious subsidization now used to steal government contracts from American workers and domestic manufacturers, the White House noted.
Citing figures, the White House said the President’s position is perfectly in tune with the American people regardless of their political party: Fully 2/3rds of our citizenry support Buy American, Hire American policies for taxpayer-funded construction and manufacturing, and this support reaches across party lines.
On the specter of retaliation by the trading partners of the US, the White House called it “simply a red herring,” arguing that “virtually all of our trading partners embrace similar kinds of domestic preference procurement programs; and such programs are fully compliant with international trade law.”