Trump signs order to clamp down on visa program, enforce 'buy American' policy

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President Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order that will make it harder for American tech companies to hire employees from foreign countries willing to work for less money than Americans.

Trump signed the “Buy American, Hire American” order during his visit to the Snap-on Tools headquarters in Kenosha, Wis. The president called the order “bold new steps” toward making good on his campaign promises to generate more jobs for out-of-work Americans.

Trump called the order “a powerful signal to the world” that “finally puts America first.”

“We are finally standing up for our workers and our companies,” Trump said.

The order targets the H1-B visa program, which allows U.S. companies to employ graduate level workers in specialty occupations like IT, engineering, mathematics and science. Among other changes, the White House wants to end the H1-B lottery system and replace it with a merit-based one - though it’s unclear exactly what criteria they would use.

“We’re going to switch away from a random lottery system in which it’s weighted toward the lowest-wage workers towards a system that prioritizes higher-skilled, higher-paid workers, which would make it much more difficult to use it to replace American workers,” a senior administration official said Monday.

Each year on April 1, a fresh cap for H1-B visa applications is set by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Under the current system, applications are then randomly selected in a lottery system.

Trump’s order also empowers federal agencies to reexamine loopholes in the government’s procurement process. Specifically, they would look into whether waivers in free-trade agreements are leading to unfair trade by companies outside the U.S. and whether it undercuts American companies on a global playing field.

On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly vilified companies that looked to hire foreign workers. He vowed to end the H1-B program which, he said, allowed big business to fire Americans and replace them with foreigners.

Currently, the government’s H-1B visa program admits 85,000 immigrants in each year to handle high-tech jobs. The number of application for H1-B visas fell to 199,000 this year from 236,000 in 2016 and 233,000 in 2015, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Trump’s order also requires applicants and their employers to demonstrate that the HB-1 visas awards will only go to the most highly skilled workers in their fields.

Trump has come under fire for not practicing what he preaches.

While he has pledged to support American goods and workers, some of his Trump-branded products are made overseas or made by foreign workers. The president  also has been accused of looking the other way when his son Eric Trump asked to bring in 29 workers to work at Trump Vineyard Estates through the federal H-2A visa program.

That program enables agricultural employers to bring in seasonal foreign workers.

According to filings, job orders for Trump Vineyard Estates say the primary tasks include planting and cultivating vines, adding grow tubes and pruning grape vines.

During his wide-ranging speech, Trump also promised to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, beef up trade deals, tweak the tax code and pass a new health care bill that will replace and repeal ObamaCare. He also said he wanted to work with lawmakers on getting Wisconsin dairy workers to get into the Canadian market.