Donald Trump isn’t done with immigration. In spite of the criticism that the president has taken over his Executive Order establishing a temporary ban on immigrants from certain countries last week, the Wall Street Journal reports that the next step may be a move to restrict work visas for skilled employees.
A draft of the order received by the Journal instructs the government to reexamine and prioritize several different visa programs to protect “the jobs, wages and well-being of United States workers.” Leaders at tech companies fear the Order is aimed at reducing legal immigration through the H-1B visa program.
Many industries, but tech companies in particular, make use of the H-1B visa program to bring skilled workers into the United States. H-1B visas require applicants to have a relationship with their prospective employer, the job must be a specialty occupation, typically requiring a bachelor degree or higher, and the applicant’s field of study must be in the same specialty field.
At the same time, legislation in Congress proposed by Senators David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) would reduce legal levels of immigration. The bill would restrict the numbers of visas for refugees and extended family members as well as eliminating the “diversity lottery” that grants visas to applicants from underrepresented countries.
CNN reports that there are at least two bills in Congress that would reform the H-1B visa program as well. Many in Congress would like to make the visas more expensive and complicated for companies to use. The number of visas available might be restricted further as well.
For years, the US has had a shortage of domestic students graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Only about 14 percent of undergraduates enroll in STEM fields. According to Georgia Tech, only about 40 percent of degrees earned by men and 30 percent of degrees earned by women in 2015 were in STEM.
More and more of graduate degrees in STEM fields are going to foreign students on student visas. If these students cannot get a work visa that allows them to stay in the US after graduation, they must leave the country and work for companies that compete directly with American businesses.
H-1B visas are capped at 85,000 per year, but there are an estimated 500,000 high-skilled IT and computer jobs that are unfilled according to Blake Irving, CEO of GoDaddy.com. Irving writes that these so-called “genius visas” are vital to the US economy because of the lack of qualified American workers and warns of “serious consequences for US-based tech companies’ ability to hire elite global talent” if the Trump Executive Order is signed.
“To be clear,” Mr. Irving wrote, “the entire US economy is at stake with this draft order and tech leaders need to speak out on its dangers.”