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Make America Wait Again: Trump hasn't stopped H-1B visas

Candidate Trump promised to make tech companies hire Americans first, but the deadline for action in 2017 has passed

By Simon Sharwood, 3 Apr 2017

Applications for the United States' H-1B visas open tomorrow, as usual. Which isn't what many expected after president Donald Trump made reform of skilled workers visas one of his key campaign promises.

H-1B visas allow those with a bachelor’s or higher degree in a specialty field, and an employer willing to take them on, to work in the United States for up to six years. The visas are widely-used by multinational companies as a way of bringing people from outside the US to the nation. Indian technology consulting companies are notable users of the visa.

Trump campaigned against H-1B visas: his immigration policy (PDF) explicitly called for businesses to be required to hire American workers before resorting to H-1B visas. His platform also called for H-1B visa wages to be increased, as it is felt that some businesses pay incoming foreign workers less than others will accept.

Candidate Trump also suggested that H-1B visas are a double-whammy, because they're used by outsourcers who profit from taking on jobs once performed by United States citizens. Incidents like a recent H-1B fraud case suggest Candidate Trump had a valid beef.

In early March, US Citizenship & Immigration Services suspended premium processing of H-1B visas. But the agency said it did so to clear a backlog of existing applications, rather than as a response to an order from the new administration.

By mid-March, Trump's spokesperson Sean Spicer hinted that speedy H-1B reform was not going to happen, telling media the administration wanted to have ”a comprehensive look” at the visas before acting.

Those remarks appear now to have been a sign the administration has decided to leave the visas alone for now. Come Monday, therefore, the US will open applications for H-1Bs as it has done in past years, with applications and businesses seemingly enjoying the same likelihood of success as they did last year.

It's possible the administration could change the rules between Monday, when applications open, and October when the visas are issued. But for now the program looks to be proceeding as usual.

Which will make technology companies optimistic they can still recruit talent from around the world. And might make Trump supporters angry, although the regime has other problems to worry about as its immigration and health care reforms, both of which were rather higher-profile than H-1B reform, have all-but-stalled. ®

The Register - Independent news and views for the tech community. Part of Situation Publishing