Tech industry confronts new visa guidelines

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The Trump administration is revamping the H-1B visa program for highly educated and skilled foreign workers. The application period for the employer-sponsored visas opened last Monday, and by Friday, the 85,000 slots available were gone. This means, as usual, there will be a lottery for the H-1B visas later this year.

Joining me from Miami to discuss changes to the program is "USA Today" immigration reporter Alan Gomez.

The H-1B visas, just to put people — kind of give them some perspective, this is something the tech industry has wanted and uses for a long time.

ALAN GOMEZ, USA TODAY: Exactly. Companies like IBM, Microsoft, Google — they have been bringing in these workers for a very long time. What they argue is that's just not enough American workers that are graduating in the STEM fields, in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, to fill all the jobs that they need. And so, they need to bring in these workers from oversees who are especially trained in these fields to augment and to build and to continue increasing their businesses.

SREENIVASAN: It's been controversy ever since it was introduced, there have been people complaining that this is taking away American jobs.

GOMEZ: Yes, it has been incredibly controversial. I mean, we hear all about sort of how undocumented immigrants in the country are taking these lower skilled jobs from American workers, but that argument has absolutely carried over into the high-tech field. And the argument is that a lot of these companies that, you know, people claim are firing American workers, American computer programmers, technicians, systems analysts, IT workers, and getting rid of their higher salaries and replacing them with these H-1B workers who can come in and in some cases, do the work for cheaper.

In some cases, like for example, last year, Disneyworld was accused of laying off hundreds of workers and even having them train their Indian replacements to take over their jobs. This is — so, this is something that has gotten a lot of people very upset and get a lot of traction throughout the Republican presidential campaign last year.

SREENIVASAN: That wasn't the intent of the law as it was designed. So, how does the Trump administration plan to fix it?

GOMEZ: This is one of the areas that we're not exactly sure where President Trump sits. There are people within his administration — for example, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been railing against the H-1B program for years. And so, we saw just on Monday, the Department of Justice issue a notice on that first phase of the H-1B applications saying that the Department of Justice was going to increase their audits of American companies and overseas companies that use these H-1B visas to crack down abuse and to make clear that they weren't going to allow just basically entry level computer programmers to come in through the H-1B program to really focus the program on what it was intended to do — these very high skilled, very hard to find experts to bring in to the United States.

SREENIVASAN: What's the ripple effect if these audits take place or if the process slows down?

GOMEZ: What could happen is you've got these tech companies — it's already hard to get these. As you mentioned, there is I think one out of every three or four applications that are put in that actually get granted. So, that's already hard to plan for something that you have to put an application in, it takes several months for it to come in.

And then if the federal government comes and says in auditing the request and the visas granted, that just creates more uncertainty and as you know very well, businesses need stability, they need some sort of predictability about what their workforce and what their future is going to look like, so that's just going to make it a little bit more difficult for these companies to operate and to plan for expansion, to plan for new programs, things like that.

SREENIVASAN: All right. "USA Today" immigration reporter Alan Gomez — thanks so much.

GOMEZ: Thank you.

Recently in Nation