Titled the “Buy American and Hire American” order in an apparent nod to Trump’s campaign rhetoric, the two-part directive makes it official executive policy to maximize financial assistance for products and materials produced in the United States.
The second, more contentious part of the order mandates that the executive branch “rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad,” namely, workers included in Section 212(a)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act — that is to say H-1B, or “skilled labor,” visa recipients.
The executive order, which is being dismissed by the media as a “largely symbolic” stand-alone directive, is the latest in a series of actions taken by the Trump administration that target the H-1b visa program.
Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security announced they would be taking further measures to detect H-1b visa fraud abuse, including site visits to H-1b-dependent employers.
On the same day, the Justice Department issued a statement warning employers petitioning for H-1B visas not to “ discriminate” against U.S. workers.
The statement, possibly in reference to claims of H-1B “job laundering” at companies like Disney, and more recently the University of California, is countered by Tech companies like MathWorks, who insist there just aren’t enough qualified American-born applicants to fill the positions. The top H-1B sponsors of the 2015 fiscal year include IBM (3), Microsoft (9), and Google (12).
There is also reason to believe the administration has been taking steps to change an Obama-era rule that allows for visas to be issued to the spouses of H-1b visa holders. In March, the Trump administration reportedly asked a Federal Appeals Court to pause consideration of a pending case regarding the legality of the rule so as to give the administration time to review and potentially revise it.
The nonprofit organization Immigration Voice has since taken up the case on behalf of the visa holders, citing uncertainty as to whether the Department of Justice will defend the standing rule.
Notably, Trump’s directive came just days after the administration awarded private prison contractor GeoGroup a 10-year federal contract to build a new $110 million, 1,000-bed detention facility in Texas. This comes on top of the administration’s existing plans to assemble a nationwide deportation force.
While the recent executive order does little more than oblige greater vigilance of the current H-1b law, the Trump administration appears to be hoping it will be enough to set actual policy changes into motion.
“There is a lot we can do administratively, and the rest will be done hopefully legislatively.” an unnamed White House official reportedly told the AFP news agency. (The link to original article is no longer active on AFP site, but the quote has been cited widely by news outlets like Al Jazeera.)
In fact, the legislative scaffolding for broader H-1B visa reform is already in place. Back in January, Republican Senator Chuck Nassley of Alabama introduced a bill that would change the eligibility criteria for H-1B and L1 employment based visas, making them harder to obtain.
The bill, just one of many tough-on-immigration bills introduced in Congress at the time, now has a hefty presidential nod of approval on its side going forward.
With the pending legislation and new prison contract, this latest executive order — symbolic or not — is far from an empty promise.