Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have expressed a desire for genuine reform of the H-1B and related programs. Trump’s written platform is strong (though some of his statements leave some abiguities), and Sanders has spoken out against H-1B for years. Let’s fuse the two of them into a single President Trumpers, and ask what would he could actually accomplish in the foreign tech worker area.
It is a given that no matter how strongly President Trumpers would feel about the issue, Congress — doing the bidding of the powerful tech industry and its powerful allies — would fight him every step of the way. But there is actually much he could do on his own, through legitimate executive action.
The most obvious action would be rescind the Bush-Obama executive actions extending OPT, with the time reverting back to the original 12-month duration. An even bolder act would be to disband OPT entirely, though I wouldn’t recommend that unless meaningful H-1B reform were to be achieved. (I also would suggest grandfathering current OPT “students.”)
A less obvious, but very effective action would be to give the proper interpretation to the term H-1B dependent employer, which is defined to be any employer for whom at least 15% of the workforce consists of H-1Bs. The current interpretation is absurd, as it includes all of the employees in a firm, e.g. the receptionists, delivery people, janitors and so on — jobs that certainly don’t fit the H-1B statute’s definition of workers eligible for the visa, i.e. “speciality occupations for which a bachelor’s degree is normally required.” In other words, since the ostensible aim of the law’s defining an H-1B-dependent category is to protect American tech workers, the denominator on which that 15% threshhold is based should consist only of tech workers, i.e. the company’s engineering and technical workforce, not its general workforce. This would have a huge impact.
President Trumpers could also declare that the green card process will not allow employers to reject Americans on the basis of being “overqualified.” As I have often mentioned, one of the major reasons employers like H-1B and related programs is that they allow them to bypass qualified but older American applicants, hiring young foreign workers instead. This change to the green card process would be of substantial help here.
Most Americans are probably unaware of the fact that many foreign STEM students are supported by federal money in the form of being hired under the research grants held by their professors. President Trumpers could direct his major research funding agencies, such as the NSF, NIH and so on to give funding priority to professors who have a solid track record of hiring U.S. citizen and permanent-resident students and post docs.
Similarly, Trumpers could direct his funding agencies to give priority to universities that have higher-than-average proportions of domestic students in their STEM graduate programs. Needless to say, he would also threaten to reduce federal funding for universities that view foreign students as “revenue enhancement sources.” Trumpers could make similar policies for companies bidding for federal conracts.
So, President Trumpers, how about it? And for that matter, you too, President Obama.