Trump to Sign Order Calling for H-1B Visa Reforms

Visa petitions for high-skilled foreign workers decline for first time in 3 years

By Roy Maurer Apr 18, 2017
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President Donald Trump will sign an executive order today, directing federal agencies to review the H-1B visa program for foreign high-skilled guest workers, according to news reports.

Trump will sign the order during a trip to Kenosha, Wis., where he will tour the headquarters of Snap-on Tools and deliver a speech about U.S. manufacturing.

Administration officials told reporters that the order will assess guest worker visa programs, including he H-1B program, set up strict enforcement of U.S. procurement preferences, and address trade treaty renegotiations. According to news reports, the executive order directs federal agencies to more strictly enforce H1-B visa laws and proposes reforms to the program to prevent fraud and abuse and ensure visas are awarded to the most-skilled applicants.

Advocates of the H-1B visa program argue that access to foreign talent is needed to fill the U.S. skills gap, but critics, including the Trump administration, say that the program needs to be reformed to quell abuses such as foreign outsourcing firms flooding the system with applicants and sometimes replacing U.S. jobs.

H-1B filing season began this year with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announcing a "more targeted approach" in visiting the workplaces of H-1B petitioners.

Petitions Fall

USCIS announced April 17 that the number of H-1B visa petitions for fiscal year (FY) 2018 fell below 200,000 this year for the first time since 2014.

The agency received 199,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period this year, far surpassing the statutory cap of 85,000 visas for fiscal year (FY) 2018. In 2016, USCIS received 236,000 visa petitions.

A computer-generated random selection process was used to select enough petitions to meet the 65,000 general-category cap and the 20,000 cap under the advanced degree exemption.

USCIS conducted the selection process for the advanced degree exemption first. All unselected advanced degree petitions then became part of the random selection process for the 65,000 cap.

The agency will now begin the process of sending receipt notices for petitions selected in the lottery while rejecting and returning petitions, together with the associated filing fees, that were not selected in the lottery. 

"Under our outmoded immigration system, U.S. employers are losing ground in the highly competitive global talent marketplace and a random lottery for H-1B visas does not help," said Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the Council for Global Immigration (CFGI). "The world of work has changed dramatically since the H-1B program was last reformed almost 20 years ago. Modernization is the only option if we want to give America the competitive edge."

Last year, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that 68 percent of HR professionals surveyed are experiencing difficulty recruiting candidates for full-time positions, with science and technology fields being the most difficult high-skilled positions to fill.

"H-1B visas can be a vital tool for employers to access top global talent, drive innovation and spur economic growth, creating more jobs for U.S. workers," Shotwell said. "As the reform debate moves forward, we must advance a system that is innovative, fair and competitive for employers and employees. We should embrace solutions that reflect market demand and prioritize visas for employers who invest in U.S. workers."

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