US President elect Donald Trump plans to rework the visa system used by engineering and technology firms

Trump seeks to end abuse of high-skilled workers visa programme, insiders say

Image credit: Reuters

Donald Trump is reportedly seeking to change how visas for high-skilled workers including engineers and scientists are awarded in the US to stop what has been described as abuse of the system by outsourcing firms.

The H-1B temporary visa is intended for highly skilled well-paid professionals. Technology firms and research institutions frequently rely on this type of visa to bring in computer programmers and other technical talent.

However, the system, which awards the visas based on a lottery, is also frequently used by outsourcing firms filling low-level IT jobs.

Trump and his team discussed the issue at a secret meeting last month, which was attended by representatives of some of the biggest American technology firms such as Google, Apple and Facebook, according to Reuters.

Some 65,000 of H-1B visas are distributed every year. The outsourcing firms tend to grab the vast majority of those because they submit large amounts of applications.

In 2015, the top 10 recipients of H-1B visas were all outsourcing firms, according to government data compiled by the IEEE-USA, a professional organisation representing American engineers.

In several high-profile cases American workers were asked to train H-1B holders to do their jobs before being laid off themselves.

Trump previously hinted he could scrap H-1B altogether as it takes jobs away from American people. However, he later revised his stance and agreed the programme should be used to bring in the talent the firms need instead of filling low-paying positions for which workers can be found locally.

Ironically, Trump himself in the past used H-1B visa to bring in employees for his businesses including Trump National Golf Club and Trump Model Management.

According to Reuters, Trump’s advisor Stephen Miller proposed scrapping the existing lottery system and replacing it with visa petitions for jobs, which would favour the highest paying positions. Such an approach is also supported by the IEEE-USA.

Among other proposals discussed was raising the cost of applications from large companies as a way to discourage bulk filings, Reuters said. Company representatives present at the meeting reportedly didn’t object to the proposal.

While Trump could initiate some changes to the visa program with executive action, significant shifts would likely need to go through a lengthy formal rulemaking process, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration expert at Cornell Law School.

Major changes would likely be subject to court challenges, he said.

Other reforms, like changing the visa cap or offering more green cards to high-tech workers, could require Congressional action.

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