Companies pulled back on visa applications for skilled tech workers this year, possibly anticipating closer scrutiny of the H-1B program by the Trump administration.
Employers seeking H-1B visas for 2018 submitted a total of 199,000 applications this year, about 16 percent less than the 236,000 last year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Monday.
The number of applications easily surpassed the 85,000 visa limit, but this was the first time in the last five years the number of requests declined, Bloomberg reported. It’s unclear if the drop in applications was due to speculation that President Donald Trump would push for changes to guest worker programs.
Tech firms view the H-1B visa program as a critical hiring tool. It is designed to allow U.S. companies to hire highly-skilled workers in technical jobs where there are a shortage of qualified domestic applicants. Opponents say it gives employers legal cover to import cheaper foreign labor and avoid paying higher wages to Americans. (RELATED: H-1B Visas Cost Americans Jobs And Suppress Wages, Economists Find)
Bruce Morrison, who created the H-1B program and now works as a lobbyist for tech-worker advocacy group IEEE-USA, told Bloomberg that a reduction in applications probably reflects a shift in strategy rather than slowing demand for visas.
“I don’t think the demand is lower, either from outsourcers or from direct employers,” he said. “I don’t think there were ever 230,000 jobs that were going to be filled.”
Trump has repeatedly singled out the H-1B program as an example of how the government and special interests in Silicon Valley team up to undermine U.S. workers. He plans to sign an executive order Tuesday that will make it more difficult for tech companies to replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor. The action will also strengthen rules barring foreign contractors from bidding on government projects.
The order — called “Buy American and Hire American” — instructs the Departments of Homeland Security, Labor, Justice and State to develop reforms that prevent fraud and abuse in the H-1B program, White House officials told reporters Monday. (RELATED: Donald Trump’s Latest Executive Order Aims To Make Companies ‘Hire American’)
“For too long, rather than operating as designed and allowing only the best and brightest to come in and fill key positions, the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program has been administered in a way that harms American workers—specifically, it has led to a flood of relatively low-wage, low-skill workers in the tech sector,” the official said.
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