Trump says will unveil overhaul 'soon' of visa rules for skilled workers 'including a path to citizenship'




  • In Business
  • 2019-01-11 17:23:34Z
  • By USA TODAY
 

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump said Friday that his administration is planning an overhaul of U.S. policies for specialty visa holders from other countries working in the United States.

"H1-B holders in the United States can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship," Trump tweeted.

He did not supply specifics, but his tweet suggested potentially more favorable terms for skilled workers from abroad, a change from his prior threats to create more restrictive policies for those workers.

While Trump said "we want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S.," critics have been concerned that he might try to crack down on the number of highly skilled workers coming into the U.S. However, his Friday tweets suggested he was weighing policies that might be more favorable to such workers.

Administration officials have been working at overhauling a number of immigration rules, including the H-1B work-visa program that technology companies and others use to bring top foreign engineering talent into the United States.

Trump brought up changes to the H1-B system in the midst of a partial government shutdown triggered by his demands for a security wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The president has discussed linking his wall plan to an overall immigration bill as a way to break the budget impasse that preceded the shutdown. He did not, however, make such a connection in his message Friday.

Until Trump's tweet, he had consistently threatened to toughen policies for foreign workers who use the popular H1-B program - to the chagrin of many in the business community who favor broadening the program.

More: 'Panic' as last-minute H1-B visa measures hit

More: The H-1B visa curb could benefit these countries

That started during his presidential campaign, when Trump routinely asked American IT workers who had lost their jobs to foreign tech workers to speak at his rallies, including several former Disney World employees.

In April of 2017, the Justice Department issued a warning to businesses threatening punishment if they abuse the program to displace American technology workers in favor of lower-cost foreign workers who enter the country through the H1-B visa program.

"U.S. workers should not be placed in disfavored status, and the department is wholeheartedly committed to investigating and vigorously prosecuting these claims," Tom Wheeler, the former head of the department's civil rights division, said at the time.

Later that month, the president signed a "Buy American and Hire American" executive order, which made it the policy of the administration to "rigorously enforce" guest workers laws to protect American workers.

And ever since, immigration attorneys have seen a rise in H1-B denials and closer scrutiny from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the government agency that adjudicates visa requests. H1-B denials rose 41 percent from the third quarter of the 2017 fiscal year to the fourth quarter, according to an analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy.

"Every change that this administration has implemented thus far has made life more difficult for immigrants on H1-B visas and employers interested in bringing in employees on this program," said Sarah Pierce, an immigration attorney and policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

But the White House has gotten pressure from Silicon Valley, the technology industry, and even some Republicans who say the U.S. desperately needs the program because of a lack of workers trained in STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Demand is so great for the program that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services closed the application process in 2018 within one week because it had received enough applications from U.S. businesses to hit the 65,000 cap on H1-B visas and the 20,000 cap on H1-B visas for people with advanced degrees.

The administration proposed a new rule in December that would change the way it awards H1-B visas, giving preference to foreigners with advanced degrees. But the proposal did not include any increase in the overall number of visas that would be awarded.

Friday's announcement gave hope to employees and employers in the tech industry who have been living in limbo under the Trump administration.

"The tweet really will be a big deal to the hundreds of thousands of H1-B visa holders who had been waiting for green cards for years, even decades," Pierce said.

But Pierce and others fear that Trump had ulterior motives for sending his tweet. He may have simply been responding to recent reports that Canada is increasingly poaching technology workers who can't enter the U.S. Or, he may simply be using a possible H1-B overhaul as a bargaining chip in the ongoing negotiations to end the partial government shutdown.

Until his administration offers more details, they say, most will remain cautious.

"While it is good to see the president recognize that immigrants are an important part of America's success, as with any proposal, the devil is in the details, and we continue to be skeptical of vague pronouncements given the administration's track record," said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, an advocacy group created by tech leaders, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump says will unveil overhaul 'soon' of visa rules for skilled workers 'including a path to citizenship'

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