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What Trump's H-1B Visas Changes Could Mean for Employers

President Donald Trump signed a 'Buy American and Hire American' executive order yesterday, which could lead to significant changes to the H-1B temporary visa program. H-1B visas allow highly skilled, foreign workers to work in the United States for three years, extendable up to six, with 85,000 such visas issued every year.

Here's what you can expect following the president's "Hire American" EO.

H-1B 101

The H-1B program is meant to allow employers to hire temporary foreign workers to fill highly-skilled positions which they cannot fill domestically. H-1B visas are most common in the tech world, but are also widely used in universities, hospitals, and other industries.

Employers must sponsor visa applications. Since there is such a strong demand for H-1B visas, the visas are currently awarded via lottery.

Though the law's focus is on highly skilled workers, up to 80 percent of visas go to workers taking entry level jobs or with limited experience, according to the New York Times. Some of the largest H-1B recipients are outsourcing companies, leading some to criticize the program for undermining domestic wages and job security. Tata Consulting and Cognizant obtained over 7,000 and 5,000 H-1B visas respectively in 2014, for example. Google got only about 700.

Changes in the H-1B Program

The primary change to come from the EO will be a skill and pay-based visa award system. The order instructs the Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of Labor, and Secretary of Homeland Security, to "suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries."

Adopting such a system would require the government to move away from the lottery model and towards merit-based review of H-1B visa applications. High-paying tech companies would win from such a switch, allowing them to get a larger slice of the H-1B visa pie. Outsourcing companies would suffer the most, with far fewer H-1B visas available.

But none of these changes are imminent. The "Hire American" order is short of details and won't lead to any drastic revisions of the H-1B system, which could take years to carry out. Instead, it simply gets the process rolling.

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