Trump wants review of guest-worker visa programs

By Sandi Soendker, Land Line editor-in-chief | Thursday, April 20, 2017

President Trump signed an executive order this week, making “Buy American, hire American” the signature motto of his administration. The White House announced that the president is keeping his promise to make America first by proclaiming that the policy of the executive branch is to buy American goods and to hire American workers.

In addition, the executive order tells the four government agencies that handle the guest-worker visas to do a complete review of the core programs. The White House indicated that the president wants to see whether or not any programs discriminate against U.S. workers and, if so, what changes need to be made.

Speaking aboard Air Force One on Tuesday, the senior administration official answered press questions regarding the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order. That official did not give a specific time frame for completion of the departmental review. “When a President issues an executive order and it says ‘move as soon as practical,’ then that,” he said, “is what is going to happen.”

The official told the press that the president wants to find ways “to avoid allowing guest workers to be used at beneath-market pay” and that an executive order “is a very muscular way of getting the agencies to begin that process.”

An April 18 press statement from the White House specifically mentions the H1B visa. The H1B allows non-farm foreign skilled workers to take jobs in the U.S. These jobs are not seasonal and workers can stay longer, even reapply. Microsoft, Amazon, Intel, Qualcomm, Apple and Google are among companies that take advantage of the H1B.

How does an employer hire a foreign worker? First they have to prove they can’t find American workers to fill the positions and then make the request to the Department of Labor. The DOL certifies the pay rate, so American workers don’t get undercut.

The program has always been controversial. While many companies could not stay in business without the program, unscrupulous company owners and scheming staffing agencies are well known for their abuses. Some business owners claim they can’t hire dependable employees and must turn to foreign labor. Critics claim the program undermines American workers.

While there’s a multi-layered chart of visa types, 76 in fact, the H2A and H2B are two much-used types of visas that allow foreign workers – not immigrants – to legally work in the U.S.

The H2A visa is for foreign workers that can be hired to work seasonally for farms, ranches, fruit growers and others with general agricultural seasonal needs. Trump has not made reference to this visa.

The H2B program is the blue-collar version of the H-1B visa outsourcing program. The number of H2B visas is capped at 66,000 per year. The program offers temporary and seasonal jobs for “unskilled” labor, up to 10 months at a time. The largest employer of these temporary workers is the landscaping industry, followed by the crabbing industry, vacation resorts, fishing industry, forestry operations and others. Companies that use the H2B program to hire foreign workers also include trucking companies. Trump has yet to specifically mention the H2B visa program.

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