Trump’s New Executive Order Aims to Re-examine H-1B Program

April 19, 2017 - 3 minutes read

President Trump signed his “Buy American, Hire American” executive order on Tuesday, which will put the H-1B visa system under review. The order is designed to ensure that tech jobs that could be going to Americans are not being taken by cheaper foreign labor and to tighten restrictions on foreign contractors bidding on government projects, which sounds reasonable enough on paper. But it comes after a series of tweaks to the visa program that have created a lot of chaos, leaving many mobile app developers in a state of uncertainty about the future of foreign workers in the tech industry.

The order is a step toward fulfilling Trump’s protectionist campaign promise to “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program.” It authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to reassess how the visas are distributed. It also encourages the DHS to make administrative changes to the program, such as increasing the application fees and re-calibrating the wage scale, so that the visas are only awarded to foreign workers needed for their highly specific skill sets. Many mobile app developers will agree that the H-1B program needs reform, especially to deal with the outsourcing firms that abuse the system. But many in the tech community do not trust the president and are uneasy with the order’s approach.

“If you basically go in and take a sledgehammer to the program without any thought for collateral damage, the cure can be worse than the ailment,” says Scott Corley from Compete America, a group that lobbies for changing the visa program to benefit high-skilled foreign workers. “Change needs to come. It comes down to how you do it.” Under the order, outsourcing companies may suffer while major tech companies thrive, but startups that rely on foreign workers may be forced to change their hiring policies.

Over the past month, the administration has taken an aggressive if somewhat scattered approach to the visa issue. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a memo earlier in the month stating that computer programmers no longer fall under the category of “specialty” workers. Later the same week, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to start targeting companies that hire significant amounts of employees with visas, heading to their offices for site checks to test the skill levels of the programmers. The Department of Justice, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also took aim at the H-1B program, promising vigilance against hiring practices that discriminate against the American worker. While all of this activity could point toward better immigration policies for the tech community and the country at large, it is hard for Boston mobile app developers to put their faith in a president who has already burned so many bridges with our nation’s innovators.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,