US president Donald Trump has furthered his ‘America First’ campaign theme by signing an executive order that he said would favour US companies for federal contracts and reform the visa programme for foreign technical workers.
Trump believes the order, called ‘Buy American and Hire American’ will protect US industries from unfair competition from abroad and stop misuse of H-1B visas that permit companies to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.
In the ‘Hire American’ section of the order, the US government pledged to “rigorously enforce” and administer the laws governing entry of foreign workers into the US in order to create higher wages and employment rates for workers and protect the country’s economic interest.
The H1-B programme has been a central focus of debates over the impact of foreign workers. Under it, the US government admits around 85,000 foreign workers annually, many of them in the technology, industrial, medical and science sectors. Trump has criticised employers for what he says are abuses of the programme and using it to avoid hiring higher-paid American counterparts.
However, the order is seen as representing a small win for bigger tech companies, which have competed fiercely for the H-1B visas. Less swingeing than many had feared, it consists of a series of relatively modest steps and could take years to enforce.
Companies such as Google and Microsoft, which rely heavily on high-skilled foreign workers, had worried that Trump would make more drastic curbs to worker programmes.
However, India’s leading tech trade group, the National Association of Software and Services Companies, said that Indian companies were being treated unfairly by the order.
“We believe that the current campaign to discredit our sector is driven by persistent myths, such as the ideas that H-1B visa holders are ‘cheap labour’ and ‘train their replacements,’ neither of which is accurate,” a statement issued by the group in response contended.
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