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

Thu Jan 12, 2017 11:08am GMT

By Mica Rosenberg, Stephen Nellis and Emily Stephenson

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - President-elect Donald Trump's transition team has been actively considering ways to revamp a temporary visa programme 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 favour visa petitions for jobs that pay the highest salaries, according to the sources.

H-1B visas are intended for foreign nationals in "speciality" 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 sceptics 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 programme 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 organisation 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.   Continued...

FILE PHOTO: Stephen Miller, advisor and speechwriter for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, arrives at Trump Tower in New York City, NY, U.S. January 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
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