On April 18, 2017 President Trump signed a new executive order described as “Buy American and Hire American.” News accounts and presidential speeches suggested the new Executive Order would severely restrict the availability of H-1B visas. This order came out just a few days after completion of the 2017 H-1B filing season and the H-1B lottery, when H-1Bs were already in the news. During the campaign, Trump had threatened to abolish the H-1B program entirely.
In reality, the new Order does not change the existing H-1B program in any way. The only specific reference to H-1Bs stated: “In order to promote the proper functioning of the H-1B visa program, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, as soon as practicable, suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”
The real reform that is needed is to increase the number of H-1Bs to match the nation’s need for computer scientists, physicians, engineers, and other talented professionals. We also need to increase the number of green cards, so that H-1B workers, especially those from India, do not have to wait 15 or twenty years to finally become permanent residents of the United States.
Most of the changes to the H-1B program that have been mentioned by Trump officials require changes in the Immigration and Nationality Act, or changes to the regulations. These changes cannot be ordered by the President or administration officials unilaterally. They require action by the Congress, or rule-making through proper procedures including notice and comment. Along with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, we will continue to advocate again any attempt to restrict these valuable visa programs, and to advocate in favor of positive changes.