US President Donald Trump moved on Tuesday to make good on his campaign pledges to put “America First” by issuing a decree on tightening skilled-worker visa rules.
Trump signed an executive order on enforcing and reviewing the H-1B visa, popular in the technology industry, on a visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, as a first step towards reforming the visa regime.
In the document, known to the White House as the "Buy American and Hire American" order, Trump also seeks changes in government procurement that would boost purchases of American products in federal contracts, particularly in the US steel industry.
TRT World's Kate Fisher reports from Washington, DC.
It was unclear whether the latest such order would yield immediate results. The H-1B visas section included no definite timeline, while the government procurement section did.
H-1B visas are intended for foreign nationals in occupations that generally require higher education, including science, engineering or computer programming.
The government uses a lottery to award 65,000 visas every year and randomly distributes another 20,000 to graduate student workers.
Critics say the lottery benefits outsourcing firms that flood the system with mass applications for visas for lower-paid information technology workers.
"Right now H-1B visas are awarded in a totally random lottery and that's wrong. Instead, they should be given to the most skilled and highest paid applicants and they should never, ever be used to replace Americans," Trump said.
Little practical impact?
Like many of Trump's executive orders to date, the newest decree will have little practical impact, but sends a signal for the various government departments to come forward with ideas for reform.
It namely instructs the Labour, Justice and Homeland Security departments to tackle issues in the H-1B system and draw up reforms aimed at bringing the program back to its original intent: awarding visas to the most skilled and highly-paid applicants.
"For too long, rather than operating as designed and allowing only the best and brightest to come in and fill key positions, the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program has been administered in a way that harms American workers," a White House official said.
Specifically, Trump's administration believes the current system led to a "flood" of relatively low-wage, low-skill workers in the tech sector.
The US president cannot, by simple decree, change the number of visas allocated. But the White House hopes to spur momentum towards a broader congressional reform — whose outline remains unclear.
"This is a transitional step to get towards a more skill-based and merit-based version," a US official said. "There is a lot we can do administratively, and the rest will be done hopefully legislatively."