Does Trump Want to Reform or Kill the H-1B Visa Program?

During the Trump Presidency, there’s been some action to adjust and reform the H-1B visa system. For example, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has cracked down hard on companies petitioning for H-1B visas, leading to drastically heightened application-denial rates. Yet critics of the H-1B have complained that the administration hasn’t gone far enough.

Trump himself has sent mixed signals about the very existence of the H-1B program. Earlier this year, for example, he rolled out an immigration plan that would fundamentally alter how tech firms source high-skilled workers from other countries; specifically, the immigration system would focus on those immigrants who exhibit “extraordinary talent,” “professional and specialized vocations,” and “exceptional academic track records” (in the words of the proposal).

Some administration reforms have seemed to follow this lead. For example, USCIS has proposed a readjustment to the H-1B lottery process, with all H-1B applicants—including those who have advanced degrees—entering the “general pool” of 65,000 visas. Once this cap is hit, any remaining applicants with advanced degrees will end up in a 20,000-visa “master’s cap” pool. This would represent a significant departure from past lotteries, in which applicantswith advanced degrees were first placed in the “master’s cap” pool, and those not accepted in that first round are placed in the “general pool.” USCIS has suggested that the change could boost the number of H-1B holders with advanced degrees by roughly 16 percent. 

In a January 2019 Tweet, Trump also voiced support for changing the H-1B system in a way that would introduce “simplicity and certainty” to H-1B holders’ lives, while opening up a “potential path to citizenship.”

But these sentiments contrast with what Trump said on the 2016 campaign trail. “We shouldn’t have it, it’s very, very bad for workers,” he said at the time. “It’s unfair to our workers and we should end it.” His campaign surrogates, many of whom transitioned into becoming members of his administration, likewise took a hard line on the H-1B program’s existence. Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for example, repeatedly expressed a desire to radically retool the program.

Some administration policies seem to have followed this line of Trump’s thinking. For instance, USCIS has proposed ending the H-4 EAD, which gives the spouses of H-1B holders the ability to work. USCIS termed ending the H-4 EAD an “economically significant” move that would ultimately benefit American workers, who would have “a better chance at obtaining jobs that some of the population of the H-4 workers currently hold” (in the agency’s words). The attempt to cancel this program is currently mired in the courts, with its fate up in the air, but if it goes through, it could cool the desire of tech workers overseas to apply for an H-1B; after all, they’d either have to leave their spouse behind, or their spouse wouldn’t be able to work within the U.S. 

Critics of the Trump administration’s attempts at reform would also point to the skyrocketing rate of visa denials as another sign that the U.S. government ultimately wants to strangle the H-1B program, although you could also make an argument that these added reviews and requests for evidence are merely weeding out applicants who truly don’t meet the bar for extraordinary talent. 

These denials have particularly targeted consulting and business-services firms, as opposed to tech firms. “At least 12 companies that provide professional or IT services to other U.S. companies, including Accenture, Capgemini and others, had denial rates over 30 percent through the first three quarters of FY 2019,” read a recent National Foundation for American Policy report (PDF)on the denials.“Most of these companies had denial rates between 2 percent and 7 percent as recently as FY 2015.”

Critics of the H-1B program have argued for years that those consulting firms abuse the H-1B visa in order to import cheaper subcontractors. Given how the denial rates at traditional tech companies (which really do need specialized talent wherever they can find it) haven’t really budged over the same period, there’s added weight to the argument that USCIS is just trying to actually make the H-1B system a channel for hard-to-find talent.  

In any case, Trump’s contrasting sentiments make things a little confusing. Is the Trump administration introducing restrictions to the H-1B program in a bid to make it more selective—to truly draw only the highest-quality talent from overseas? Or is the current policy more a reflection of Trump’s previously stated desire to eventually end the H-1B program entirely? The next year could give us a better idea of the administration’s ultimate goals. 

20 Responses to “Does Trump Want to Reform or Kill the H-1B Visa Program?”

  1. Maha Guru

    As long as the system is completely reformed so we dont get a flood of so-called high-skilled engineers from India top address the “STEM crisis” baloney made up rich greedy tech with able help from politicians and immigration attorneys, we should be fine. We still need the best from India as we did before 1997 or so, but that changed fast when rich greedy tech realized they could lower their costs without any care for quality!

  2. Watch out – word is there will be ANOTHER attempt to push through S386 with a floor vote tomorrow on Dec 12. Call your Senators and tell them what a bad idea that is. We should NOT pander to foreign interests. We have per-country caps to prevent the over-subscrition of people from only a few countries.
    As I have mentioned before – in 2017, after people from the Americas (North, Central and South America), the people receiving the most employment based green cards are from India and China. The people demanding “fairness” in receiving Green Cards are ALREADY getting MORE than people from other countries. This is not FAIR to people from other countries. If anything, we should apply per-country caps on all visa programs that are used to lead to permanent residency – that means per-country caps on the badly abused and little audited H1b, L1 and B1 visas. That would be FAIR.

  3. …to truly draw only the highest-quality talent from overseas?
    …desire to eventually end the H-1B program entirely?
    The author asked the questions in the correct order. Complete step 1 and then complete step 2.
    This isn’t about “talent”; it’s about cheap, unskilled labor. Enough of this “we need talent” bull plop.

  4. yes lets get as many extrodinary talented people as possible in the tech industry, FROM THE UNITED STATES!!!!!!!!!!!! If companies want to do busines here hire Americans and pay for them. Let those who don’t move to India and see how long they last.

  5. I’ll believe it – this Presidency cracking down on H1-B abuse – when I see it. This Administration cannot seem to accomplish the simple things, let alone anything of any complexity. I had high hopes that Trump would fix the abuse of work visas as a means of corporate welfare – to import cheap IT talent in order to reduce rates (and employment by U.S. citizens). Alas, as soon as it seems something concrete might happen… Look, squirrel! – and attention is lost and redirected towards the next Fox News commentary topic of the day. I think it’s likely better to lobby the folks at Murdoch’s media companies – to ensure sufficient talking-head attention and coverage feeding the West Wing’s daily agenda – than going through any so-called “official” channels. Sigh…

  6. Look at all the majority of abusers, they’re coming from Indian outsourcing factories.

    Who else buys this tripe that India has some sort of magical source of talent and consultants.

    Cheap Labor from the third world is all this is period. Corruption and working the system is rife in India after all.

  7. We all know this has dragged on for years. Big biz, immigration lawyers and Indian companies are the ONLY winners!! They are also the ones making a lot of money from their abuses of H1b, L1 visa programs.



    We all know this is one sided. I have not heard one word come from CNN, Fox, or the network news. They NEVER bring it up!! Why?? If they bring it up, they could be fired for saying discriminatory things, or fired for not thinking “diversity”!!

    Because there are people from India very firmly imbedded into each of these media companies!!

    Why aren’t we splitting the 65,000 into 15,000 from India, 15,000 from Philippines, 15,000 from Brazil, etc.

    The whole magilla is a giant pis-off. We’ve let this go on for far, far too long!!!

  8. H1b holders are highly skilled. They earn high packages as it is a pre condition for H1b. Plus they spend a lot and boost the economy. They work hard, create and grow businesses which in turn generates employment for millions of people. There is a Cap on number Green Cards issued each year. So, if India or China is not getting green cards; other countries are getting them. The total number of landed immigrants is the same. It would make more sense to allow people in on basis of merit rather than country of birth. It would make sense to get in people who contribute to the society, drive economy, create jobs and nurture all-round growth; rather then getting in people who have very basic or no education and struggle to provide for themselves but can get a green card due to their country of birth.

    Remember the number of green cards are fixed per year. They go out each year no matter who is getting them. It’s a choice who are given these green cards.

    • 1). You must be an H1-B foreigner, based on your English.
      2). The employment of millions of foreigners is generated.
      3). Most H1-B visa holders, now have expired visas and do not return to their country.
      4). If you are so skilled, why do we have to train you upon entry into the country?

  9. I worked for a indian consulting company and the h1b visa workers did their homework at work, barely worked, had all the setup office at home as well. Meanwhile american workers had to be at work and didn’t qualify for tutition reimbursement and the other perks given to h1b. So the plan to keep those with higher qualified education is laughable. the great minds thinkers of usa had no post secondary education.

  10. Foreign companies next time around the western companies come looking for work to be done offshore make the best out of it… and spread the returns to the employees improve your countries..