U.S. President Trump will restrict H-1B visa program for foreign workers

In what has been termed his “latest ‘buy American Hire American’ offensive” of protectionism, United States President Donald Trump has announced his plan to sign an executive order today, Tuesday April 18, to limit the H-1B visa program.[1]  During his campaign for the presidency, President Trump had pledged to end the program entirely and blamed it for enabling American companies to replace American employees with cheap foreign labour.[2]

Over 85,000 immigrants are admitted into the United States each year under the H-1B visa program, and many of these individuals work in high-tech jobs.  The changes will prove frustrating for technology executives, who have argued that the program is vital to their ability to recruit talent.  Some warn that President Trump’s protectionist offensive will merely bring about the result he hopes to avoid, by sending companies offshore like Microsoft in its move to Vancouver, Canada.[3]

The administration claims the Executive Order will direct the Departments of Labor, Justice, State, and Homeland Security to crack down on fraud and abuse, require strict enforcement of laws governing entry by foreign workers into the U.S. labour market, and require reforms to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded only to the most skilled and highest paid workers.

One official was quoted as saying that this “is a transitional step to get towards a more skills-based and merit-based immigration system.”[4]  Officials explained that reforms may at first include mainly administrative changes, such as an increase in visa application fees, adjusting the wage scale, changing the lottery system to give further advantage to those with a U.S. master’s degree, and more vigorous enforcement in response to violations.[5]

This latest wave of protectionism is not limited to the United States, but appears to have crept into the policy of multiple nations.  The United States government’s upcoming action is a mirror image of similar actions in the United Kingdom, in its pursuit of “Brexit,” and also in Australia, where government has declared that the admittance of foreign workers should be restricted further in order to ensure citizens have first access to jobs.[6]  Protectionist rhetoric has a clear presence and influence in these countries’ current political climates, and further restrictions on immigration are likely to be enacted in these countries in the future.


[1] David Smith, “Donald Trump to overhaul H-1B visa program that admits foreign workers,” April 17, 2017, The Guardianhttps://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/17/donald-trump-temporary-worker-h1b-visa-executive-order.

[2] Tracy Jan and Max Ehrenfreund, “After a series of flip-flops, Trump prepares to deliver on a key campaign pledge,” April 17, 2017, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/04/17/after-a-series-of-flip-flops-trump-prepares-to-deliver-on-a-key-campaign-pledge/?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_buyamerican-950pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory.

[3] Michael D. Shear, “Planned Trump Order Will Discourage Hiring of Low-Wage Foreign Workers,” April 18, 2017, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/18/us/politics/trump-executive-order-h1b-visas-technology-workers.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fus&action=click&contentCollection=us&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=10&pgtype=sectionfront.

[4] David Smith for The Guardian, supra note 1.

[5] Tracy Jan and Max Ehrenfreund for The New York Times, supra, note 2.

[6] Jacqueline Williams, “New Rules in Australia Would Make It Harder for Migrants to Get Visas,” April 18, 2017, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/18/world/australia/malcolm-turnbull-australia-457-visas.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Faustralia.