President Trump has been bullish on immigration reform, even if his efforts thus far have been more reminiscent of a bull in a china shop. After an initial executive order banning refugees and even visa holders from seven majority Muslim countries was blocked by federal courts, Trump is looking to re-issue a revised order and appears to be targeting other immigration programs as well.
Next up on the chopping block might be the H1-B visa program, through which American business -- many of them the biggest tech firms in the country -- can hire skilled foreign workers. Last month, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said a possible executive order on work visas "is part of a larger immigration effort" based on "an overall need to look at all of these measures." So what could H1-B visa reform mean for your small business or startup?
The H-1B allows skilled non-citizen employees to work in the U.S. for three to six years, but availability is strictly limited. H-1B visas are capped at 85,000 annually -- 20,000 of which are reserved for applicant's with master's degrees -- and they fill up fast. Last year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has already reached the mandated H1-B cap for 2016 year in the first six days of registration.
Those 85,000 workers represent a mere .05 percent of the total U.S. workforce of nearly 160 million people, but that doesn't mean the program is flying under the radar. And despite strict requirements that H-1B employees can't displace a U.S. worker, proposed new legislation would target that exact issue. Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley and Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin are planning to re-introduce a bill from 2007 that would require employers to make a "good faith effort" to hire Americans before seeking H1-B visas, and others have promised to introduce legislation clamping down on H1-Bs.
A Post-H1-B Economy
But those are plans from Congress -- could the president act alone on the H1-B program? Eric Ruark, director of research at limited immigration advocate NumbersUSA, told the Wall Street Journal that Trump could attack the program in three ways:
Whether President Trump will opt for one, all three, something different, or wait for congressional action, it seems clear that the H1-B visa as we know it is not safe. Big tech and engineering companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Tesla, and Uber are already gearing up for a battle over the visas, and Indian IT firms are doing the same.