Trump touts plan to change visas for skilled foreign workers

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A woman leaves the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in New York

By Yeganeh Torbati and Mica Rosenberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – US President Donald Trump said on Friday he plans changes to the H-1B program that grants temporary visas for specialty occupations such as technology or medicine, but his administration later said he was referring to changes proposed last year. .

“H1-B (sic) holders in America can rest assured that changes are coming soon that will bring simplicity and certainty to their stay, including a potential path to citizenship,” Trump said on Twitter. “We want to encourage highly skilled and talented individuals to seek career options in the US.”

It was unclear what Trump meant by a “potential path to citizenship” for H-1B visa holders, who are already eligible to be sponsored by employers for legal permanent residence, which would make them eligible to become US citizens. .

When asked about Trump’s tweet, US Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman Michael Bars provided a statement on a formal proposal in December for changes to the H-1B process, which will likely become in definitive at the end of this year.

The proposal is designed to increase by 5,340, or 16 percent, the number of H-1B recipients who have advanced degrees from US universities. It would also streamline the application process with a new electronic registration system.

“These proposed regulatory changes would help ensure that more of the best and brightest workers from around the world come to the United States under the H-1B program,” Bars said.

Critics questioned why Trump tweeted about a proposal a month ago at a time when he is fighting with Democrats in Congress over spending legislation to fund the federal government. Trump wants to include $ 5.6 billion for a wall along the border with Mexico, which he says will stop illegal immigration.

Democrats view the proposed wall as expensive, ineffective and immoral. The dispute has led to a partial shutdown of the US government, which is now in its 21st day.

Doug Rand, a former White House official in the Obama administration who worked on immigration issues, said the proposed changes to the lottery selection process were modest at best and could cause chaos at worst. . Some immigration experts don’t believe the new registration system will be ready in time for the next lottery, which occurs in the spring.

“The odds that DHS will actually launch a complicated new electronic processing system in time for the next lottery on April 1 is low and has nothing to do with a potential path to citizenship,” Rand said.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has sought to curb illegal immigration and deport more immigrants living in the United States illegally. His administration has also worked to limit legal immigration, including through a proposal that would penalize would-be immigrants who use public benefits.

Trump has also mocked visas granted to relatives of US residents or citizens as “chain migration” and backed a Republican proposal in 2017 that would have cut legal immigration in half.

“The devil is in the details, said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a nonprofit group that advocates for pro-immigration policies. He said his group, which was founded by tech executives, including the founder Facebook (NASDAQ 🙂 CEO Mark Zuckerberg remains “skeptical of vague pronouncements given the administration’s track record.”

American companies often use H-1B visas to hire graduate workers in specialized fields including information technology, medicine, engineering, and mathematics. But the visa program has also drawn criticism for being widely used by foreign outsourcing companies that squeeze American companies.