Though his administration has been marked by setbacks and subversion, President Trump is looking to add a policy notch to his belt and, more importantly, a win for beleaguered American workers.
On October 6, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced reforms of the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program. The H-1B allows foreign nationals to enter the country to work in “specialty occupations”—but that term, like the program itself, is riddled with problems. These visa workers are commonly used to replace Americans, doing the same job for less pay and often without the same level of skill. Americans are often compelled to train their foreign replacements.
The changes will narrow the definition of “specialty occupation,” and close loopholes exploited by companies to displace American workers. It will also enhance DHS’s ability to enforce H1-B worksite compliance, and limit the validity of an H-1B visa to one year for a worker placed at a third-party worksite.
“The changes that go into effect immediately will ensure that U.S. companies will use H-1B workers to augment our domestic labor force, not replace it, as had been the case for far too long,” the Federation for American Immigration Reform said in a press statement.
Not everyone was pleased at this good news.
“This will not only hurt companies that employer [sic] H-1B workers,” complained immigration attorney Sarah Pierce, “but also the hundreds of thousands of companies that benefit from their work.” If Pierce is agonizing, then this is truly cause for applause because it is guaranteed to nudge the balance of power toward everyday Americans over corporations. And that nudge couldn’t come soon enough. In the third quarter of the current fiscal year, the federal government approved 95.5 percent of all H-1B visa applications filed—the highest ever since Trump took office.
Trump’s campaign triumphed in 2016, in part, because of his promise to end job offshoring, a promise that resonated profoundly with voters in industrial swing states. A report published October 5 by advocacy group Public Citizen, however, found that 200,000 American jobs have been offshored during his presidency. The Trump Administration “awarded on average 2.5 times the amount, or $10 billion more, in contracts to firms that offshored during his term than to those that did not,” according to the study.
Labor outsourcing via programs like the H1-B is often connected to offshoring. The issues both relate to labor, and have both been killers of American livelihoods.
The top ten worst offshoring offenders listed in the Public Citizen report are Boeing, General Electric, United Technologies, Accenture, Securitas, AT&T, Honeywell, Hewlett Packard, AECOM, and IBM. These are all companies that have ruthlessly outsourced jobs with programs like the H-1B.
In late 2019, AT&T put thousands of American workers on the chopping block, after assigning them to train their foreign replacements. After a pair of deadly crashes, it was revealed Boeing outsourced 737 Max software development to foreign engineers earning just $9 an hour. Accenture and IBM were among the top 10 companies to request H-1B high-skilled worker visas in 2019.
Some have complained that the timing of this announcement indicates that it is politically motivated, intended to shore up last minute support. And?
“I wish it had come sooner, and there were more, but I’m happy with whatever we can do to make the system better,” Florida labor attorney Sarah Blackwell remarked. Blackwell is right. Moreover, these regulations, however late they’ve come, cannot be easily undone after Trump is no longer president.
We are the legacy we leave behind. Our successes and failures weigh upon this and the next generation. Here, we hope, is a change to the immigration system that will be a lasting achievement of which the Trump Administration can be proud.