President Trump Targets Visa Program He Says Hurts American Workers

KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) -
President Donald Trump speaks at Snap-On Tools, Tuesday, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Turning back to the economic populism that helped drive his election campaign, President Donald Trump signed an order Tuesday he said should help American workers whose jobs are threatened by skilled immigrants.

At the headquarters of hand and power tool manufacturer Snap-on Inc., President Trump signed an order aimed at curbing what his administration says are hiring abuses in a visa program used by U.S. technology companies.

“We are going to defend our workers, protect our jobs and finally put America first,” President Trump declared, standing in front of an American flag fashioned out of wrenches.

Much like some prior orders, however, President Trump’s executive action Tuesday essentially looks for detailed reports rather than making decisive changes. In this case, the reports are about granting visas for highly skilled foreign workers and ensuring that government purchasing programs buy American made goods as required by law.

President Trump chose to sign the directive at Snap-on Inc., based in Wisconsin, a state he narrowly carried in November on the strength of support from white, working-class voters.

In his new directive, the president is targeting the H-1B visa program, which the White House says undercuts U.S. workers by bringing in large numbers of cheaper, foreign workers and driving down wages. The tech industry has argued that the H-1B program is needed because it encourages students to stay in the U.S. after getting degrees in high-tech specialties — and because companies can’t always find enough American workers with the skills they need.

The new order would direct U.S. agencies to propose rules to prevent immigration fraud and abuse in the program. They would also be asked to offer changes so that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid applicants.

The number of requests for H-1B visas declined this year by about 15 percent, or roughly 37,000 applications, but the total was still nearly 200,000, far more than the 85,000 limit.

Tuesday’s order also seeks to strengthen requirements that American-made products be used in certain federal construction projects, as well as in various grant-funded transportation projects. The commerce secretary is to review how to close loopholes in existing rules and provide recommendations to the president within 220 days. The order also asks agencies to assess the use of waivers.

The trip brought President Trump to the congressional district of House Speaker Paul Ryan, but Ryan was out of the country on a congressional trip. The president was greeted by Gov. Scott Walker outside Snap-on’s headquarters.

During his remarks, President Trump weighed in on another economic issue, promising to find a solution to a trade dispute with Canada that has left dairy farmers in Wisconsin and New York without a market they had for their product.

President Trump said Canada has been “very, very unfair” to dairy farmers and “we’re going to start working on that.”

Canada has decided to impose import taxes on ultra-filtered milk, a protein liquid concentrate used to make cheese. It had been duty free but Canada changed course after milk producers there complained. About 70 dairy producers in both U.S. states are affected.

As for the visa program, Democratic lawmakers and organizations ranging from the pro-business Chamber of Commerce to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation say they welcome proposals to improve the visa program, though not always in line with Trump’s ideas.