On January 11, President Trump offered up a Tweet about the H-1B visa program. Alluding to “changes” that would bring “simplicity and certainty” for H-1B visa holders, along with a “potential path to citizenship,” he concluded by saying: “We want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S.”
H1-B holders in the United States can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship. We want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2019
If Trump is indeed interested in adjusting the H-1B program to give visa holders an easier pathway to U.S. citizenship, it would prove a remarkable about-face. During his campaign for the Presidency, Trump suggested that H-1B visas were “very, very bad for workers” and that the U.S. “should end it.”
In early 2017, right before signing an executive order that directed the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, and State to review current H-1B policy, Trump told the audience: “[H-1Bs] should be given to the most skilled and highest paid applicants, and they should never be used to replace Americans.”
But the Trump administration’s changes to the H-1B program have been largely incremental, at least so far. For example, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) suspended premium processing, claiming it would allow agency workers to better handle a backlog of petitions.
Nonetheless, those incremental changes could add up to something much larger over the next year or two, especially if the Trump administration follows through on its proposal to adjust the H-1B applicant pools to give those workers with advanced degrees a much better chance of actually obtaining a visa. Under the proposed plan, all applicants—including those with advanced degrees—will enter the annual “general pool” of 65,000 visas; after that first pool is sorted through, any remaining applicants with advanced degrees will enter a 20,000-visa “master’s cap” pool. That’s the reverse of the current system, in which applicants with advanced degrees enter the “master’s cap” pool, after which the unaccepted remainder enter the “general pool.” In theory, it will give those with advanced degrees a better shot.
Trump’s new claim about a “potential path to citizenship,” however, is a new twist to this saga. Does he mean it, or did he make that statement as part of a larger political calculation? That remains to be seen.