Trump cabinet picks make for uncertain H-1B visa future
- The fate of H-1B visas for tech workers just became more uncertain after President-elect Donald Trump reportedly named Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as his U.S. attorney general nominee, per Reuters. Sessions has advocated cuts to the program for some time; he introduced legislation last year to make H-1B visas less accessible to firms like Infosys, an India-based firm that acquires visas for lower paid contractors.
- The tech industry has fought back by lobbying to expand the program. Microsoft, Google and other tech firms usually hire H-1B workers who are educated and highly skilled. Companies procure green cards for these in-demand workers so they can work permanently in the U.S.
- One Mark Zuckerberg-backed immigration lobbying group supports setting higher minimum wages for H-1B workers and giving priority to companies that sponsor them for green cards. Tech industry groups could face strong opposition from Sessions, if he is confirmed, and other GOP lawmakers.
Observers have noted Trump's conflicting statements regarding his stance on the H-1B visa program. Reuters quotes him having said that H-1B visa workers are "amazing people," and that the U.S. shouldn't let them leave. On other occasions, he's been critical of the program and called for reform.
Any impediments to employers recruiting highly skilled, hard-to-find workers hinders productivity. H-1B visas were meant for specialized occupations requiring a college degree, particularly for those fields where large talent gaps exist in the U.S. The program allows companies to hire workers with the specific training they need to run their businesses.
Sessions will likely keep up the pressure on companies looking to replace U.S. workers with cheaper foreign labor. His perception of the H-1B visa program — that it has the same net effect as outsourcing —could mean that he will push harder to raise wages for visa holders, making them less desirable to outsourcing companies. It would be one of many recent legal setbacks for the program.