Bold leadership is not a trait often associated with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which is largely why the establishment GOP leadership was marginalized in the last election. For years, they have known that the H-1B guest worker visa program was not merely passively broken, but was actively undermining American workers. Heck, they could have found that out just by watching 60 Minutes.
On Tuesday, President Trump used his executive authority to change the parts of the broken H-1B program that were within his constitutional power to fix. The Executive Order calls for ending the allocation of H-1B visas by lottery and suggests that those visas be allocated to the most-skilled or highest-paid foreign workers. In addition, it seeks to curtail foreign labor contractors from turning the H-1B program into a cash cow by snapping up the majority of visas available each year and then subcontracting workers to American businesses.
The president’s “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order turned out to be a no-brainer. Normally, any action on anything related to immigration evokes howls of protest from some interest group. That was not the case with regard to Trump’s H-1B changes. Groups that have fought for protections for American workers offered approval for the president. Those, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that have advocated for greater access to foreign labor avoided direct criticism of the H-1B provisions of the Executive Order and instead obliquely reaffirmed their stance that it “would be a mistake to close the door on high-skilled workers from around the world.”
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has been a sharp critic of the H-1B program, called the president’s Executive Order “a step in the right direction toward fulfilling the campaign promise of having an immigration system that serves the national interest.”
FWD.us, a mass immigration lobby group funded by Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley titans, offered guarded approval for the president’s effort to shove foreign labor contracting firms off the H-1B gravy train (although they did renew their demand for increases in H-1B visas). The AFL-CIO, which has been largely AWOL when it comes to protecting American workers against immigration policies that undermine their interests, saw the president’s move as a boost for American minorities seeking a foothold in science and technology.
Even leading Democrats in Washington limited their criticism of Trump’s ordered changes to the H-1B program by asserting that the president did not go far enough in protecting American workers. “We already know H-1B visa abuse displaces American workers. President Trump already missed a chance to deliver on his promise of bold action to put American workers first,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), ignoring the fact that President Obama, who was not shy about using executive policy directives to protect illegal aliens, did nothing to address the H-1B visa abuse Durbin laments.
Sen. Durbin is correct: President Trump’s actions do fall short of what is needed to protect the interests of American workers. That’s Congress’s job. The flawed, loophole-ridden H-1B program that allows for the displacement and wage depression of American workers was created by Congress and must be fixed by Congress. Based on the initial responses from business, labor, Democrats, and immigration reform advocacy groups like FAIR, there is very little reason why the risk-averse Republican leadership in Congress should not follow up the president’s executive order with legislative reforms that actually protect American workers while continuing to provide American companies access to guest workers who truly possess unique skills that will benefit our country.