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|The Mercury News||-|
Still smarting over President Donald Trump's controversial immigration ban, Silicon Valley now is bracing for his next likely target - H-1B visas that supply local tech companies with thousands of skilled foreign workers.
Trump poised to overhaul H-1B visas relied on by Silicon Valley tech
The Trump administration has drafted an executive order to overhaul the visa program, according to Bloomberg, which saw a copy of the order Monday. It’s a move intended to protect American jobs from being snatched up by workers from overseas — keeping in line with the America-first policies Trump has repeatedly promised his supporters — but it could mean a major shake-up for the Silicon Valley workforce.
The U.S. grants 65,000 H-1B visas to skilled workers every year — and an additional 20,000 to foreigners who graduated from American universities. In 2013, about 27,000 of those visas went to workers in the Bay Area, according to the Brookings Institution. Tech companies say they need those workers to fill jobs requiring advanced science and math skills.
The draft order targets those visas as well as visas granted to college students participating in summer work abroad, temporary agricultural workers and others, stating those programs “should be administered in a manner that protects the civil rights of American workers and current lawful residents, and that prioritizes the protection of American workers — our forgotten working people — and the jobs they hold.”
The draft order directs government agencies to analyze the impact the visa programs have on U.S. jobs, and to write new regulations to protect U.S. workers.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer answered a reporter’s question about H-1B visas during a briefing on Monday, but didn’t confirm an executive order on the program would be forthcoming.
“It’s part of a larger immigration reform effort that the president will continue to talk about through executive order and through working with Congress,” he said.
Critics of the H-1B program argue it’s being abused by companies that use it to replace their American workers. At UC San Francisco, for example, where several dozen tech workers recently lost their jobs to outsourcing, the school was accused of misusing the H-1B program to hire replacements for some of the workers.
California lawmakers also have proposed legislation that would reform the H-1B visa program. A bill by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-San Diego, would raise the minimum salary covered by the visa from $60,000 to $100,000, making it less likely that companies could use the program to replace American workers with cheap labor. And Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, last week introduced a bill with a similar intent.
“My legislation refocuses the H-1B program to its original intent – to seek out and find the best and brightest from around the world, and to supplement the U.S. workforce with talented, highly-paid, and highly-skilled workers who help create jobs here in America, not replace them,” Lofgren wrote in a news release.
But Guardino argues the U.S. doesn’t have enough talent to meet its demand for skilled workers, and tightening restrictions on the visas could deprive local companies of top talent. The unintended consequence of an order cracking down on H-1B visas may be that more companies move overseas to chase foreign talent, he said.
“This could be a boomerang that bounces back and hits us in our own foreheads,” Guardino said, “greatly diminishing American jobs and our economy.”