President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to look into addressing perceived abuse of the H-1B skilled worker visa program by IT outsourcing firms.
"Right now, H-1B visas are awarded in a totally random lottery. And that's wrong," Trump told workers at Kenosha, Wis.-based tool manufacturer Snap-On Inc. "Instead, they should be given to the most skilled and highest-paid applicants."
Trump said widespread abuse of programs such as the H-1B visa has resulted in American employees of all backgrounds being replaced by workers brought in from other countries for less pay. Programs like the H-1B visa should never be used to replace Americans, according to Trump.
"American workers have long called for reforms to end these visa abuses," Trump said. "And today, their calls are being answered for the first time."
Trump said better enforcement of rules related to the visa program will give American workers a fair and level playing field for the first time in decades. All told, Trump said the visa reforms are aimed at ensuring jobs are offered to American workers first.
The H-1B is the only guest worker program with no requirement to first search for U.S. workers, according to Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute. Both the H-2A unskilled agricultural visa and the H-2B unskilled non-agricultural visa require this, Costa told CRN in 2015, with a job registry database in place for the H-2B program.
But the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a research group sponsored by several tech companies, said requiring applicants to advertise job openings for an extended period to conclusively prove that no U.S. workers are available could be so onerous that it renders the H-1B program ineffective.
"We are talking about fast-moving industries. Companies get opportunities, and they have to jump on them," Robert Atkinson, ITIF's president, said in a statement. "Delaying them for too long would be bad for innovation, job creation and growth."
A senior Trump administration official identified Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Cognizant as companies that benefit from the existing random lottery allocation system. The official told reporters during a briefing Monday that those three companies have an average wage for H-1B visas of between $60,000 and $65,000, well below the $150,000 earned by the median Silicon Valley software engineer.
"Companies like Tata, Infosys, Cognizant will apply for a very large number of [H-1B] visas … by putting extra tickets in the lottery raffle," said the official, who gave the briefing on the condition of anonymity. "You have contracting firms that are not skills employers, that oftentimes use workers for entry-level positions, and they capture the lion's share of H-1B visas."