What Will Happen to H-1B Skilled-Worker Visas Under Donald Trump?

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WSJ.com Reports:

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will likely crack down on the use of skilled-worker visas issued to Indian outsourcing firms, said a leading anti-immigration campaigner.

Mr. Trump is still picking his cabinet, and how his policies will evolve is hard to guess, but he was elected pledging to restrict immigration. That means the tens of thousands of mostly Indian migrants entering America on high-skilled worker, or H-1B, visas could become a target for tougher vetting, said Roy Beck, president of Arlington, Va.-based NumbersUSA, which advocates for limited immigration.

“It would be very surprising if we don’t see the rules around H-1Bs really tighten,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Beck said his organization provided information and analysis to Mr. Trump and a handful of other candidates during the campaign, though the group does not support any individual candidate and does not currently work with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump’s presidential-transition media team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

During his campaign, Mr. Trump emphasized tightening immigration and criticized companies that ship jobs overseas to countries like India and China.

His stance on H-1B permits has changed over time. Early in the year policy statements on his campaign website said the numbers of such visas should not be increased. In a March debate, however, he said he supported highly skilled immigration.

But after the debate, he issued a statement vowing to “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program.”

H-1B visas are not mentioned on the immigration policy page of Mr. Trump’s presidential-campaign website. His vision is to “Establish new immigration controls to boost wages and to ensure that open jobs are offered to American workers first,” the website says.

Similarly, Mr. Trump’s separate presidential-transition website’s immigration page does not address H-1B visas, focusing on curbing illegal immigration and reforming legal immigration.

Mr. Beck said while he does not think the H-1B program will be scrapped entirely, requirements for technical skills needed to obtain visas—along with visa fees—could be raised.

He noted that Mr. Trump may be pressured by technology companies that depend on non-American coders and engineers but at the same time he will be facing heat from supporters who are angry about immigration.

Tightening restrictions on H1-Bs might be a natural move, said Mr. Beck.

The “low-hanging fruit is going to be outsourcing companies” like those in India, he said.

A key part of India’s outsourcing industry, which employs millions and accounts for about 20% of India’s exports of goods and services, has long been sending information-technology engineers and programmers to the U.S. on H-1Bs.

“Immigration is a pretty new issue” for Mr. Trump, said Mr. Beck, noting that he had dealt directly with the President-elect as part of his group’s work. “His understanding and commitment isn’t deep.”

Tighter visa rules would be a challenge for firms like India’s largest software exporter by revenue, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., along with Infosys Ltd. and Wipro Ltd.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that handles applications for H-1Bs, said in April demand for 85,000 visas awarded annually surpassed the entire year’s mandated supply just five days after it began the application process. That prompted the government to announce it will award them through a lottery for the fourth consecutive year.

Of course, it is impossible to predict how Mr. Trump’s policies could be enacted, and he may retain a soft spot for H-1B visas. His wife, Melania Trump, says she used one to work in the U.S., as they are also given out to fashion models.

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