President Signs Executive Order Seeking H-1B Visa Program Review

Author: Marta Moakley, XpertHR Legal Editor

April 21, 2017

President Donald J. Trump has signed an Executive Order on Buy American and Hire American, establishing as the policy of the executive branch to promote American business and talent. The Order does not have any immediate impact on existing federal policies or regulations.

Under its "hire American" policy, the Order seeks to "rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry" into the US of workers from abroad. The Order seeks to ensure "the integrity of the immigration system," and directs the Departments of State, Justice, Labor and Homeland Security to propose new rules and issue new guidance to protect the interests of US workers in the administration of the immigration system, including "through the prevention of fraud and abuse."

In addition, the Order directs the Departments of State, Justice, Labor and Homeland Security to suggest reforms of the H1-B visa program, so that visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.

Reaction to the presidential action has been mixed. While conceding that the H-1B program could be improved, US Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley said in a statement, "It would be a mistake to close the door on high-skilled workers from around the world who can contribute to American businesses' growth and expansion and make the U.S. more competitive around the world."

On the other hand, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised the order for addressing issues important to labor: "With respect to immigration, the labor movement consistently has called for reform, rather than expansion, of temporary work visa programs that make U.S. and foreign workers more vulnerable to discrimination, displacement and exploitation."

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) President William A. Stock focused on the lack of immediate effect of the Order, saying in a statement, "Today's announcement brings to mind a famous phrase from Shakespeare's MacBeth: 'full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.' While the agencies are being asked to undertake a review of the H-1B program, the reality is that many of the changes contemplated by the administration will require legislative action, or at minimum, the lengthy rulemaking process."

The H1-B visa program continues to be popular with employers, having reached its cap for 2018 in just four days of accepting petitions.