Irish urged to consider other visas amid Trump clampdown

US president plans changes to H-1B visa programme for foreign workers

President Donald Trump says a new executive order will ensure that federal agencies enforce rules to end abuse of the H-1B visa program used to bring high-skilled foreign workers to the United States. Video: The White House

 

Irish people and companies seeking visas for staff to work in the United States have been advised to consider other options as President Donald Trump unveiled plans to review the H-1B visa programme.

Fulfilling part of an election promise, the Trump administration has said it plans to review the visa scheme, accusing some companies of abusing the programme to hire foreigners at much lower rates of pay and robbing American workers for high-paying jobs.

US administration officials provided a briefing of the scheme ahead of Mr Trump announcing his executive order, bypassing the US Congress, during a visit to a company in Wisconsin, one of the Rust Belt states hurt by manufacturing job losses that sealed his election victory in November.

During the election campaign, Mr Trump promised to end the programme that admits 85,000 immigrants each year primarily for high-tech jobs as the visas are limited to degree holders. Some 199,000 applications were submitted this year for H-1B visas for 2018.

Buy American, Hire American

Mr Trump’s order, entitled “Buy American, Hire American”, does not go as far as his pledge as a candidate but still proposes radical changes to the programme under his “America First” economic nationalist agenda.

The main target appears to be India-based IT outsourcing companies that use the visas to hire staff at their corporate IT departments as administration officials named four Indian firms in their briefing.

Speaking at a tool-making company in Kenosha, Wisconsin before signing the executive order, Mr Trump said that his administration was starting “a long overdue reform of H-1B visas.

“H1-Bs are awarded in a totally random lottery and that’s wrong. Instead they should be given to the most skilled and highest-paid applicants and they should never, ever he used to replace Americans,” he said.

The change may even benefit Irish workers as more could qualify for H-1B visas under the merit-based system based on highly skilled applicants.

Some 3,190 H-1B visas have been issued to Irish workers over the past five years, though the numbers have been steadily declining from 699 in 2012 to 549 in 2016 as the uncertainty around the lottery system and the six-month delay in the issuing of the visas makes other visas more attractive for Irish emigrants.

Sean Davis, Enterprise Ireland’s regional director for North America, said Irish employers relocating employees to the US are highly unlikely to be operating in low-cost wage area but that they should still look at other visas as Mr Trump’s changes come into effect and are possibly challenged in the courts.

“It is important that companies and people look at the alternatives that are out there while being cognisant of the fact that this is pretty targeted at the displacement of American workers,” he said.

The issuing of L visas to Irish specialist technology workers has outstripped the number of H-1Bs in the past five years; some 5,310 have been issued over that period, while E visas for people who trade with and invest in the US has also increased, doubling in that time to about 400 a year. The number of O visas, which are issued to artists but also to scientists and technology workers of “extraordinary” ability, has also been increasing and has totalled almost 2,000 over the past five years.

‘Turned off’

Immigrant lawyer Deirdre O’Brien who has offices in New York and Kilkenny said that Irish people have been “turned off” by H-1Bs in favour of other visas because of the cost involved, the lottery and the six-month wait. She sees Mr Trump’s changes as more rhetoric to appeal to his working-class constituents.

“Ultimately, H-1B visas are for higher-paid workers. They are not taking working-class jobs. They are taking highly skilled, highly paid jobs,” she said. “So really it is just again more spin for Trump to be seen to be delivering on election promises.”

Speaking at a tool-making company in Kenosha, Wisconsin before signing the executive order, Mr Trump said his administration was starting “a long overdue reform” of H-1B visas.

“H1-Bs are awarded in a totally random lottery and that’s wrong. Instead they should be given to the most skilled and highest-paid applicants, and they should never, ever he used to replace Americans,” he said.

The change may even benefit Irish workers, as more could qualify for H-1B visas under the merit-based system based on highly skilled applicants.