Donald Trump’s H-1B maneuvering in Thursday’s Fox News presidential debate marks at least the third time he’s contradicted himself on the issue since releasing a detailed immigration platform in August that wowed immigration hawks and helped launch him to the top of the polls.
Although his campaign has characterized the comments as off-course, or mistakes, or the result of miscommunication, Trump has consistently used language about the H-1B program, or guest worker visas, that aligns himself with the interests of H-1B-dependent Silicon Valley, which his official platform states is abusing American workers.
Activists and experts concerned about the effect the H-1B program has on American tech workers immediately praised Trump’s proposal to reform the program when he released the platform in August. Every other leading candidate in the 2016 race supported the program at the time.
But just two days later, Trump contradicted his stated H-1B policy when he tweeted: “I want talented people to come into this country–to work hard and to become citizens. Silicon Valley needs engineers, etc.”
The tweet dismayed Norm Matloff, a leading expert on H-1Bs who had just given that part of Trump’s proposal an A+ rating. “Well, forget what I said on Trump and H-1Bs,” the UC Davis professor wrote in a post on his blog, adding: “Someone got to Trump.”
But later that same afternoon, Trump went back to touting his H-1B platform, and actually linked to Matloff’s rating of his plan in a follow-up tweet. “My H-1B reform plan will transform program so it delivers for country, not lobbyists, & will have bipartisan support,” he wrote.
Trump again aligned himself with the interests of Silicon Valley, which consistently lobbies for an expansion of the H-1B program, in an October CNBC debate. “I am all in favor of keeping these talented people here so they can go to work in Silicon Valley,” Trump said.
He bristled when a moderator brought up his criticism of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, which was and is on his website. “I have nothing at all critical of him,” Trump said, denying the statement on his website that calls Rubio “Zuckerberg’s personal senator.”
“Are you in favor of H-1Bs or are you opposed to them?” the moderator pressed.
“I’m in favor of people coming into this country legally,” Trump said. “And you know what? They can have it anyway you want. You can call it visas, you can call it work permits, you can call it anything you want.”
But once again, Trump went back to criticizing the H-1B program touted by Silicon Valley the next day, and disputed the idea pushed by lobbyists, such as Zuckerberg, that there is a shortage of American tech workers.
“Lobbyists write the rules to benefit the rich and powerful,” he told Breitbart News in an apparent effort to correct the record. “America produces the best and brightest in the world. It’s time to stand up for own students — many of whom are racked with terrible, terrible debt and facing a disastrous job market.”
“We are graduating two times more students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) than find jobs in those fields every year. We have a surplus of talented Americans and we need them to get jobs first.”
Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly confronted Trump about his conflicting statements on H-1Bs in the Fox News debate Thursday. “Which is it?” she asked.
“I’m changing,” Trump said, specifically referencing Silicon Valley’s need for more foreign workers. “We need highly skilled people in this country, and if we can’t do it, we’ll get them in.”
“So you’re abandoning the position on your website,” Kelly asked, referring to his immigration platform online that says “Silicon Valley” is using H-1B visas to “decimate” female and minority American workers.
“I’m changing it,” Trump replied. “And I’m softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country.”
But almost immediately after the debate, Trump’s campaign issued a statement on his remarks, saying he wasn’t actually referring to H-1B visas, and he does want to roll that program back.
“The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay,” he said in the statement, adding: “I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.”
Asked to comment on his consistently contradictory statements on the H-1B program, a spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign told The Daily Caller News Foundation that Trump’s statement Friday “speaks for itself.”
One tech worker Disney laid off, Leo Perrero, was forced to train his foreign replacement on a H-1B visa, endorsed Trump just last week because of his position on H-1B visas, and signaled he’s not bothered by Trump’s debate comments.
Trump was talking about “foreign ivy league students that want to stay in our country,” Perrero told TheDCNF. “The H-1B visa program is completely different than that situation. It is about highly skilled Americans as trainers and lower skilled temporary workers on a temporary visa as the trainees.”
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