Trump takes aim at visa program for high-skilled workers

Trump takes aim at visa program for high-skilled workers
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The Trump administration is beefing up enforcement of the H1-B visa program used by tech companies to bring high-skilled workers to the U.S.

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security said it was taking steps to “further deter and detect H-1B visa fraud and abuse.”

"The H-1B visa program should help U.S. companies recruit highly-skilled foreign nationals when there is a shortage of qualified workers in the country. Yet, too many American workers who are as qualified, willing, and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged," the agency said.

"Protecting American workers by combating fraud in our employment-based immigration programs is a priority."

The measures include site visits to companies hiring workers through the visa program.

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The agency intends to target cases where the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service cannot validate an employer's information through public means, as well as cases involving firms with a high proportion of H1-B hires. Also in line for extra scrutiny are firms whose visa workers are employed at offsite locations.

The Department of Justice in a separate release on Monday also vowed to crack down on visa fraud.

“The Justice Department will not tolerate employers misusing the H-1B visa process to discriminate against U.S. workers,” said acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Civil Rights Division.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday said the actions were consistent with President Trump's efforts to enforce laws protecting American workers.

The moves are likely to spur a new fight between Trump and Silicon Valley, which has used the program to boost its workforce.

The tech industry says the program is needed to find workers for hard-to-fill software and engineering positions. Tech leaders and the advocacy group, Fwd.us, backed in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, have long called for expanding the program as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

Trump has taken a tough tone on immigration, but on the campaign trail sent mixed messages on how he would handle high-skilled immigration.

Trump at times said the visa program took jobs from American workers. And at other times, he floated keeping the program in place while forcing tech companies to pay higher fees.

In February, it appeared the president was poised to crack down on the visas after a leaked draft of an executive order. But that order was never finalized.

The promise to tighten scrutiny of the visas comes as the lottery for companies to apply for 2018 visas opened on Monday.

Last week, on Friday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also offered new guidance making it harder for computer programmers to be eligible for the visas.