Com­pa­nies warned: Hire Amer­i­cans

Sup­port­ers of Trump wanted big­ger changes

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The Jus­tice and Home­land Se­cu­rity de­part­ments is­sued star­tling warn­ings Mon­day to com­pa­nies ap­ply­ing for the coun­try’s most prom­i­nent foreign guest-worker pro­gram, telling ex­ec­u­tives to look for Amer­i­cans to fill those jobs first and promis­ing more in­ves­ti­ga­tions and pros­e­cu­tions of busi­nesses that abuse the sys­tem.

U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices, which is part of the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment, also re­leased rules on Fri­day that could cur­tail the num­ber of computer pro­gram­mers who get H-1B visas, des­ig­nated for spe­cialty oc­cu­pa­tions that Amer­i­can com­pa­nies have a tough time fill­ing.

The crack­downs were an­nounced as USCIS opened the ap­pli­ca­tion process on Mon­day for H-1B visas next year, kick­ing off what has be­come a mad scram­ble for the 85,000 slots highly cov­eted by Amer­i­can tech com­pa­nies.

The moves seemed de­signed to ap­pease Pres­i­dent Trump’s sup­port­ers, who urged him to make good on cam­paign prom­ises to evis­cer­ate the H-1B pro­gram, say­ing it sparked un­fair competition with Amer­i­can work­ers. They were hop­ing for ma­jor re­forms be­fore the H-1B ap­pli­ca­tion process be­gan this week but said Mr. Trump failed.

“Per­son­ally, I am still wait­ing for the pres­i­dent to just tell us his plan and tell us he cares about this is­sue. The si­lence and in­ac­tion, to­gether, make it hard for me to be­lieve the pres­i­dent is still on the side of the Amer­i­can worker as it re­lates to H-1B visas, out­sourc­ing and off­shoring,” said Sara Black­well, a Florida lawyer who has rep­re­sented employees who lost jobs to H-1B visa hold­ers.

She cam­paigned with Mr. Trump last year, be­liev­ing she had found a cham­pion for work­ers, but now says the pres­i­dent has dis­ap­pointed her by al­low­ing the H-1B ap­pli­ca­tion process to kick off with­out re­forms.

“No one wins but the bil­lion­aires,” she said. The H-1B visa is per­haps the mar­quee busi­ness visa, giv­ing high-skilled work­ers a chance to live and hold a job in the U.S. — and of­ten to gain a foothold that leads to per­ma­nent sta­tus and even­tu­ally to cit­i­zen­ship.

Mr. Trump’s wife, Me­la­nia, fol­lowed that path, claim­ing an H-1B visa in the 1990s as a fash­ion model and even­tu­ally win­ning a green card sig­nal­ing le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dency.

The ap­pli­ca­tion process is con­sid­ered a good yard­stick of the health of the Amer­i­can high-end econ­omy. Years when the ap­pli­ca­tions are snapped up quickly are pro­jected to be strong eco­nom­i­cally.

Over the past cou­ple of years, more than 230,000 ap­pli­ca­tions were filed in just the first few days. USCIS shut off ap­pli­ca­tions af­ter only a week and re­sorted to a lot­tery sys­tem to pick the even­tual win­ners.

Computer pro­gram­mers and other tech work­ers com­plain that com­pa­nies use H-1B work­ers from Asia to un­der­cut Amer­i­cans — go­ing so far as to lay off U.S. work­ers and forc­ing them to train their foreign re­place­ments who are hired for far less pay.

Sto­ries like that spurred the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to open an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into H-1B abuses, but of­fi­cials re­port­edly closed it last year with­out bring­ing charges against any­one.

The new ad­min­is­tra­tion is promis­ing more scru­tiny.

USCIS promised to con­tinue random site vis­its to make sure com­pa­nies that use H-1B work­ers are abid­ing by the rules, and the agency in­vited Amer­i­can work­ers to file com­plaints if they are un­der­cut.

Com­pa­nies that rely heav­ily on H-1B work­ers will shoot up the pri­or­ity list for au­dits, USCIS said.

Late last week, the agency also re­leased guid­ance telling of­fi­cers not to ac­cept computer pro­gram­mers au­to­mat­i­cally and that the abil­ity to write computer code is not enough on its own to earn ad­mit­tance.

Mean­while the gov­ern­ment’s at­tor­neys warned com­pa­nies to try to hire Amer­i­cans be­fore turn­ing to the H-1B pro­gram.

“The Jus­tice Depart­ment will not tol­er­ate em­ploy­ers mis­us­ing the H-1B visa process to dis­crim­i­nate against U.S. work­ers,” said Tom Wheeler, act­ing as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral for the civil rights di­vi­sion.

He said the ad­min­is­tra­tion will in­ves­ti­gate and vig­or­ously pros­e­cute any vi­o­la­tors.

The warn­ing marked a ma­jor break with the Obama and Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions — though less than some an­a­lysts had hoped for.

“It strikes me as a kind of con­so­la­tion prize for the H-1B re­form peo­ple,” said Mark Krikorian, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies.

He said Mr. Trump would have been hard­pressed to make large-scale changes to the pro­gram, given he has been in of­fice for less than three months and hasn’t nominated a head of U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices, the agency that over­sees the pro­gram.

Still, Mr. Krikorian said Mr. Trump might have made some cor­rec­tions such as scrap­ping the lot­tery sys­tem used to dole out ap­pli­ca­tions and in­stead say­ing those promised the high­est salaries would be se­lected. That move could have ham­strung com­pa­nies that want to use foreign work­ers to un­der­cut Amer­i­cans’ wages.

The is­sue unites Repub­li­cans and Democrats on Capi­tol Hill. Several law­mak­ers have been try­ing to strike a deal on broad changes de­signed to pre­vent abuse of the H-1B visa.

Busi­ness groups say that while they rely on H-1B work­ers, the sys­tem is out­dated and doesn’t serve Amer­i­cans, for­eign­ers or the needs of the econ­omy.

“It also fu­els chaos, in­ef­fi­cien­cies and crit­i­cism around the pro­gram,” said Scott Cor­ley, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Com­pete Amer­ica, an ad­vo­cate for re­form of U.S. im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy for highly ed­u­cated foreign pro­fes­sion­als.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In In­dia, the shares of top in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies are fall­ing in re­sponse to news of a U.S. pro­posal to make it harder for com­pa­nies to re­place Amer­i­can work­ers with for­eign­ers for lower pay.

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