Terry H. Schwadron
Once again, there was a lot of political staging as the President signed an executive order that intends to make it more difficult for companies to recruit lower-wage workers from foreign countries, undercutting Americans looking for work.
President Trump went to a Wisconsin manufacturer to direct federal agencies to look for ways to require a preference for buying American-made goods. And once again, the order is a directive, not law, and may or may not work.
In any case, it apparently does not apply to businesses run by the Trump Organization. Just last month, the winery now run by the Trump sons applied for exactly these type of H-1B visas for foreign workers to be hired for seasonal work. So did Mar-a-Largo. The excuse for each was that Americans did not want this type of work.
Beyond that, Trump ties and other goods are made in China and elsewhere. One wonders why our billionaire president can’t come up with rules that apply equally to himself and to his family members.
Indeed, it is Silicon Valley companies who seek the most of the 85,000 H-1B workers admitted each year because they say these workers actually are qualified to take such jobs. By contrast, tech leaders have complained, Americans pushed out of manufacturing jobs are, on the whole, poorly equipped for the tech jobs. The H1B visa is an employment-based, non-immigrant visa, chosen by lottery, that allows foreigners to work in the United States on a temporary basis for up to six years.
The tech companies are angry that the President has supported such legal action. But the campaign turned up any number of testimonials from individuals who argued that they had lost their software jobs to foreign workers. Still, there never has been a systematic review of how widespread these practices are.
In addition, of course, there are thousands of more companies, including Trump Winery, that seek to take advantage of the foreign worker visas.
The executive orders will not end the programs involved, but give the heft of presidential support to America First approaches to buying supplies and hiring Americans first. As such, the executive orders were tailor-make to look as if Mr. Trump is meeting campaign promises.
Indeed, the orders call for a months-long review of such worker visas and “Buy-America” programs before any change takes hold.
As it happens, most of the H1B immigrant workers are paid less than the median wage for workers in their fields. The order seek to require that potential employees demonstrate that visas are going only to the most highly skilled workers in a field.
Some technology companies were quick to note that if it becomes too much of a problem to import trained foreign leaders, technology companies will move more of their work overseas, where they can find appropriate labor.
The Buy-America rules are embedded in trade deals with scores of foreign countries. The proposed changes in the executive orders make it more difficult for foreign companies to bid on American government contracts and order specific Commerce Department reviews to examine procurement practices to make it easier for American companies to win any bids.
Overall, the directives were being paraded as benefiting working- and middle-class Americans who have suffered for too long under unfair trade and immigration rules. “This is the policy that ensures no one gets left behind in America anymore — that we protect our industry from unfair competition, favor the products produced by our fellow citizens and make certain that when jobs open those jobs are given to American workers first,” the White House.
Making these orders effective will require legislation, of course. In these cases, the general thinking is that the substance is far less contentious than tax cuts or health care.
The 85,000 approved visas each year are from a pool of more than 200,000. Many come from big employment companies like Infosys in India, which file for tens of thousands of visas each year.
It is also true that multi-national supply lines mean that American firms may assemble or complete manufacture, but that much work on the components are done overseas. It is unclear how any of this will be affected by executive orders that want to stamp more goods and services as hire-American, buy-American.
Once again, we have a staged activity in lieu of actual policy. The executive orders do not guarantee the results they promote, they do not further define the problems, and they are a convenient way for the administration to avoid the real problem — a comprehensive approach to immigration issues for the country.