Trump's "Hire American" Executive Order Light on H-1B Specifics; USCIS Confirms H-1B Cap Reached

Another Immigration-Related Executive Order

Yesterday, President Trump signed an Executive Order referred to as "Buy American and Hire American" during a tour of Snap-On Tools, Inc. in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  Advance press reports suggested that the order would include a massive overhaul of the H-1B visa program and the immigration community waited anxiously for details. However, the actual order proved to be thin on specifics and proposed no actual changes to the existing H-1B program.  However, it is widely interpreted as setting the stage for future reforms.

The Executive Order, which only included two short paragraphs related to immigration, simply directs the departments of State, Justice, Labor and Homeland Security to propose changes to ensure that H-1B visas “are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid” applicants. It also directs those agencies to propose rules to root out fraud and abuse in the broader work visa system, but offered no timeline or further specifics on how or when such changes must be implemented.

So, despite the considerable hype that preceded the "Buy American and Hire American" Executive Order, the order does nothing more than require the relevant government agencies to more vigorously enforce the H-1B laws that already exist and to study the H-1B program and suggest possible reforms.  Any significant changes to the H-1B visa program, or any other work visa program, cannot be accomplished by Executive Order alone.  Rather, such changes would require legislative action by Congress.

While no immediate changes will be made as a result of the "Buy American and Hire American" Executive Order, the order is yet another clear signal from the Trump administration that they remain intent on ramping up immigration enforcement and reforming the H-1B program to protect the interests of U.S. workers to the extent they have the ability to do so.

Ellis Porter will continue to monitor the Trump administration's immigration moves and we will provide you with further updates as an new developments happen.

H-1B Cap Reached

In related news, as expected, the H-1B visa cap was reached in the first week of filing, though applications were down by 16%.  USCIS announced that approximately 199,000 H-1B applications were received for the 85,000 available H-1B visas (65,000 standard cap; 20,000 Master's cap).  Last year, USCIS received 236,000 H-1B cap applications.

Receipt notices have begun trickling in.  It’s not clear whether the decrease in applications for Fiscal Year 2018 signals an overall cooling in the labor market or whether tough talk on visas has had a deterrent effect on hiring practices.