In his State of the Union address, President Trump said some of the right things about what he hopes to accomplish to create a more effective immigration system. But his recent actions on the H-1B visa, a long-standing American tech worker job displacement vehicle, indicate that the President’s heart is elsewhere, namely with powerful corporate lobbies.
During the days leading up to the speech, anxiety was high among immigration enforcement advocates that the State of the Union platform would provide President Trump with the perfect forum to introduce his outline for an amnesty giveaway. Instead, President Trump’s official comments referred to secure borders and immigration enforcement as a “moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens.”
Although he omitted last year’s references to ending catch and release, the visa lottery and chain migration, President Trump came down hard on illegal immigration, and emphasized the role that drug smuggling and sex trafficking play in the process. Every day, President Trump also said, Americans pay illegal immigration’s price – job loss, lower wages, and overcrowded schools and hospitals.
So far, so good. But then President Trump diverged when he called for historically high legal immigration levels. President Trump’s comments displayed a disappointing lack of awareness about the links among lawful permanent residents, the employment authorization documents they receive, and the job competition they create as their presence expands the labor pool.
President Trump’s actions on the ground contradict the overall lofty State of the Union rhetoric. Gone is his Inaugural Day “Hire American” pledge. The Trump administration recently released its new H-1B guidelines. H-1B critics hoped that the long-awaited changes would restore U.S. tech workers to a more even playing field. Instead, the new regulations favor employers addicted to cheap labor.
The revised guidelines make two significant changes in how the H-1B visa lottery functions, neither of which help U.S. tech workers. First, instead of having employers enter visa petitions into the H-1B lottery, employers will enter a lottery for the right to submit visa petitions. And second, everyone among the 65,000 general H-1B lottery and the 20,000 lottery exclusively for foreign-born students with graduate degrees from U.S. universities will be put into the general lottery. Employers win because they’ll no longer need to prepare costly petitions for visas that won’t be granted because of the 85,000 annual H-1B visa cap.
During his two years in office, President Trump has been toothless in attacking the myriad employment-based visas that displace American workers. In addition to the H-1B, other employment visas that need to be eliminated or slashed include, to name a few, the L for intracompany transfers, E visas for investors, the TN visa for North American Free Trade Agreement professionals, the J-1 cultural exchange visa, Optional Program Training that has allowed about 400,000 foreign graduates to get U.S. jobs, and the O for the loosely defined extraordinarily talented. As a result of the steady flow of non-immigrant visa workers, an estimated 1.5 million foreign nationals hold U.S. jobs that should go to Americans.
On immigration, President Trump is listening to the wrong people. Instead of heeding advice from immigration expansionists, the President should be heeding and acting on behalf of working age Americans to get them back into the labor pool. About 50 million Americans are jobless; 35 million people under age 35 live in poverty; one in every five Hispanics is impoverished, and one in every three Black Americans is jobless.
Work visas don’t create American jobs; the reverse is true. As long as the large visa-holding population continues to expand, Americans – especially the most vulnerable – will face unfair, unnecessary job competition, leaving them stuck in low-wage employment or jobless.