Trump order aims to curb US agencies’ use of foreign workers

President Trump on Monday signed an executive order aimed at blocking U.S. agencies from outsourcing jobs to foreign workers, a move partly sparked by outrage among some conservatives over outsourcing plans from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

The order specifically targets the use of H-1B visas and requires federal agencies to prioritize hiring U.S. residents and green card holders before outsourcing contract jobs to foreign workers. The Department of Labor will also finalize guidance to prevent employers from moving H-1B workers to job sites that would displace American workers.

The order additionally requires federal agencies to complete an internal audit to determine whether they are only appointing U.S. citizens and nationals to government jobs in the competitive service.

H-1B visas are used for skilled workers and are common in the tech industry. They are the largest visa program of those included in Monday’s order, as such recipients can stay for multiple years.

Several Tennessee Valley Authority employees were in attendance for Monday’s announcement. TVA is a federally owned corporation created amid the Great Depression that provides utility services to parts of Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky, among other states.

The company was a target of outrage among immigration hawks and some conservatives earlier this year, both because of its CEO’s high pay and because of an announcement earlier this year that it would lay off roughly 60 American workers as part of outsourcing plans.

The president on Monday said he was removing two appointees to the TVA’s board of directors, including Chairman James Thompson. Trump nominated Thompson to the board in 2017.

The president also spoke critically of its CEO, Jeff Lyash, warning that he would seek his ouster. He later said the CEO had reached out and expressed openness to reversing course on outsourcing jobs, but Trump indicated he still hoped Lyash would agree to lower his salary.

A TVA spokesperson said they were not aware of the language in the executive order prior to its release and noted that Trump does not have the sole authority to fire the CEO.

“We understand and support today’s Executive Order,” spokesperson Jim Hopson said in a statement. “We want to ensure that U.S. employees have good opportunities through our employment and supply chain practices. We look forward to working with the White House, continuing a dialogue and supporting future policies in this direction.”

Hopson noted that all TVA employees are based in the U.S. and all of its information technology workers must able to work in the country legally.

Trump was also joined by members of U.S. Tech Workers, a group that advocates against hiring foreign workers through H-1B work visas. The organization had lobbied Trump to take action against TVA to prevent it from outsourcing jobs, and to specifically take action against Jeff Lyash, the CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Lyash is the highest-paid federal employee in the U.S., making roughly $8 million annually, a point of contention among some conservatives. Trump was asked about Lyash’s pay during an April press briefing, calling it “ridiculous.” TVA responded at the time by noting that taxpayer money does not go toward compensation or benefits to Lyash.

The group took out an ad in July highlight Lyash’s salary and the authority’s plan to outsource jobs. Trump tweeted about the ad in mid-July.

“Another one of many Fake T.V. Ads, this one about the Tennessee Valley Authority, which for years has paid its top executive a ridiculous FORTUNE,” Trump tweeted. “Not run by the U.S., but I have long been fighting that crazy ‘salary’ & its polices. Strange ad paid for (?) by ‘U.S. Tech Workers.’ “

Monday’s executive order is the latest in a series of unilateral actions Trump has taken on the immigration front amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump in late June signed an executive order to suspend the issuance of certain temporary worker visas through the end of 2020. He issued another executive order last month seeking to bar undocumented immigrants from being counted toward congressional apportionment in the census, and his administration announced last week a fresh review of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Trump previously tried to end.

“The White House seems to be taking a more holistic approach to protecting American workers, meaning Peter Navarro’s trade and manufacturing policies meet immigration restrictions,” said R.J. Hauman, head of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that advocates for restricting immigration.

“Not only is that desperately needed right now, it’s good politically,” Hauman continued. “Instead of focusing on Biden attacks and abstract GOP establishment concepts like ‘socialism sucks,’ maybe the Trump campaign will start pointing to steps taken to stop outsourcing and offshoring, among other things.”

Trump has for weeks teased another executive order to implement a more merit-based approach to immigration. He has provided few details, however, and sources familiar with internal discussions said they expect Trump to continue pursuing more piecemeal action.

One potential measure on the horizon could further restrict H-1B visas, according to a person with knowledge of the plans.

–This report was updated at 2:49 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump H1B visas Immigration Tennessee Valley Authority
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