US President Donald Trump will today sign an official Order guiding government offices to prescribe changes to a brief visa program used to convey foreign employees to the United States to fill high-skilled jobs.
In a briefing for journalists, senior administration officials said lax enforcement and numerous legal loopholes mean American workers and companies lose jobs and business to foreign competition, which hurts the USA economy.
The president is scheduled to sign the two-part order - Buy American and Hire American - after delivering remarks at a tool manufacturing company in Wisconsin Tuesday.
The order, which he is expected to sign at an event in Wisconsin today, will strictly enforce "laws governing entry into the United States of labor from overseas for the stated goal of creating higher wages and higher employment rates for workers in the United States", according to a White House official.
Tuesday's executive order won't make immediate changes to the system, but will direct the Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and State departments to undertake a wholesale review of the H1-B visa program and to put forth recommendations that can be achieved administratively or through legislation. It would also give the Labor Department more power to investigate and sanction H-1B abuses and give "the best and brightest" foreign students studying in the US priority in getting H-1B visas.
Its centerpiece is the replacement of the H-1B lottery with a system that distributes visas on the basis of wages, skills and education.
But there are other, similar temporary worker visas that President Trump didn't mention, and isn't trying to curtail.
"Companies like Tata, Infosys, Cognizant will apply for a very large number of [H-1B] visas ... by putting extra tickets in the lottery raffle", the Trump administration official said. Generally, employers do not have to interview Americans before hiring foreigners for the US -based jobs.
"So if you change that current system that awards visas randomly without regard for skill or wage to a skills-based awarding, it makes it extremely hard to use the visa to replace or undercut American workers because you're not bringing in workers at beneath the market wage".
Senior administration officials say the order is effectively an initiation of a review by these departments of how the current visa waiver program is structured, rather than a call to take immediate, specific actions regarding the visa programs.
There's bipartisan agreement that the H-B1 program needs to be fixed, and critics say Trump could have simply directed federal departments to start recommending reforms, without issuing an executive order.
H-1B visas are given to temporary foreign workers sponsored by technology companies.
"Right now H-1B visas are awarded by random lottery and many of you will be surprised to know that about 80% of H-1B workers are paid less than the median wage in their fields".
But a majority of the visas are awarded to outsourcing firms, sparking criticism by sceptics who say those firms use the visas to fill lower-level IT jobs.
The officials said reform could first come through administrative changes, such as raising the visa application fees, adjusting the wage scale to more accurately reflect prevailing salaries in the tech industry, and more vigorously enforcing violations.