President Donald Trump was in Wisconsin on Tuesday, but his words probably resonated most in California.
He announced a plan to overhaul an American visa program that brings tens of thousands of workers and students to the United States every year, many of whom find work in tech-related jobs in Silicon Valley.
“American workers have long called for reforms to end these visa abuses,” Trump said. “They should never, ever be used to replace Americans.”
The United States admits 85,000 people into the country each year on H-1B visas, 20,000 of whom are graduate student workers. But Trump says companies exploit the system to the disadvantage of American workers.
Workers from outside the country, he says, are often hired at low-grade information technology jobs and are paid less than American workers. Trump’s plan is to alter the H-1B system so it admits only workers who are among the most highly paid and/or skilled in their fields — a “total transformation,” he says, from the current system in which successful applicants are chosen in a lottery.
Some experts have worried the move will limit Silicon Valley’s talent pool, forcing companies to move operations overseas. Others say it could make it easier to recruit highly skilled employees because H-1B visas wouldn’t be taken by lower-skilled workers.
Outsourcing companies such as Tata Consultancy Services, however, are almost certain to feel the effects of such a move. Trump was likely referring to Tata and companies such as Infosys when he talked about the visa program being used to bring in workers from outside the U.S. to work in lower-paying information technology jobs.
Citizenship and Immigration Services has also muddled the hiring process for Silicon Valley companies.
A policy change earlier this month makes computer programmers applying for an H-1B visa turn in extra documentation to prove their jobs are specialized in a way that requires companies to look outside the U.S. to fill open positions.
It also commits government officials to assure companies conduct thorough searches for American employees before looking to those who have applied for a visa.
“We are sending a powerful signal to the world: We’re going to defend our workers, protect our jobs and finally put America first,” Trump said.