Trump, tech tycoons talk overhaul of high-skilled visa program

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By Mica Rosenberg, Stephen Nellis and Emily Stephenson NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO President-elect Donald
Trump's transition team has been actively considering ways to
revamp a temporary visa program used to bring foreign workers to
the United States to fill high-skilled jobs, according to
sources familiar with the discussions. Possibilities for reforming the distribution of H-1B visas,
which are used largely by the tech industry, were discussed at a
meeting last month with chief executives of tech companies at
Trump Tower, said two sources, who asked not to be named because
they were not authorized to talk about the closed-door talks. Trump senior policy adviser Stephen Miller proposed
scrapping the existing lottery system used to award the visas. A
possible replacement system would favor visa petitions for jobs
that pay the highest salaries, according to the sources. H-1B visas are intended for foreign nationals in "specialty"
occupations that generally require higher education, which
according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
includes, but is not limited to, scientists, engineers or
computer programmers. The government awards 65,000 every year. Companies say they use them to recruit top talent. But a
majority of the visas are awarded to outsourcing firms, sparking
criticism by skeptics that say those firms use the visas to fill
lower-level information technology jobs. Critics also say the
lottery system benefits outsourcing firms that flood the system
with mass applications. The H-1B visa program tends to be more critical to
outsourcing firms than U.S. tech firms. For instance, more than
60 percent of the U.S. employees of Indian outsourcing firm
Infosys are H-1B holders, and the company in its
annual report has cited an increase in visa costs as among
factors that could hurt its profitability. The top 10 recipients of H-1B visas in 2015 were all
outsourcing firms, according to government data compiled by the
IEEE-USA, a professional organization representing U.S.
engineers. Sixty-five percent of H-1B petitions approved in the 2014
fiscal year went to tech workers, mostly from India, according
to USCIS. In several high-profile cases, American workers were asked
to train H-1B holders to do their jobs before being laid off
themselves. The idea advanced by Miller in the tech meeting has also
been pushed by the IEEE-USA. Miller previously served as a staffer for Senator Jeff
Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general, who has been an
outspoken critic of abuses of the H-1B program. Trump, who has applied for H-1B visas to bring in foreign
workers to his own businesses sent mixed messages about the
program on the campaign trail. He assailed it for taking jobs
from U.S. workers, but during a Republican debate last March
said he was "softening" his position "because we have to have
talented people in this country." He later issued a statement on his website saying he would "end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program." Trump businesses, like Trump National Golf Club and Trump
Model Management, have received permission to bring in more than
two dozen foreign employees on H-1B visas since 2011, according
to Department of Labor data. TRUMP TOWER MEETING During the meeting last month in New York, Trump seemed to
be searching for middle ground, and members of his transition
team raised specific proposals, the two sources said. A third
source familiar with the talks said the Trump team has also
discussed the plan to change the lottery system internally. There were more than a dozen top tech executives from some
of the country's largest tech companies, including Google
, Facebook and Apple, present at the
meeting. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said technology
companies need to be able to recruit talent from abroad when
necessary. Trump seemed open to modifying the H-1B program, the sources
said. He said he wanted to stop "bad people" from immigrating to
the United States, not "great people," according to one account
of the meeting. Among proposals the group discussed was raising the cost of
applications from large companies as a way to discourage bulk
filing for the visas. Asked by Trump if they would object to
that, none of the tech CEOs said they would. "In our view, the president-elect is not hostile to H-1B
visas," said one of the sources familiar with discussions at the
meeting. While Trump could initiate some changes to the visa program
with executive action, significant shifts would likely need to
go through a lengthy formal rulemaking process, said Stephen
Yale-Loehr, an immigration expert at Cornell Law School. Major
changes would likely be subject to court challenges, he said. Other reforms, like changing the visa cap or offering more
green cards to high-tech workers, could require Congressional
action, Yale-Loehr said. A wide variety of companies, including Thomson Reuters
, use the H-1B visa program to bring in employees from
abroad. (Additional reporting by Julia Edwards in Washington)



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