'Buy American, Hire American' Order Means More H1B Visa Changes Coming

Just when you thought things were getting bad in the tech sector, you can brace for another hit.


In his ongoing effort to crack down on illegal immigration and undermine the tech sector, President Trump (aka 45), has issued a new Buy American, Hire American executive order. While it makes no changes to the H1B visa program at the moment, Silicon Valley should be bracing for new rules soon as at least four government agencies must propose reforms.

Right now, H1B visas are issued by random lottery. About 85,000 are issued each year, with 20,000 earmarked for candidates with a master's degree or higher. Reports say that about 70% go to people from India, many who come to the tech rich Silicon Valley area for salaries ranging from $65,000-$70,000 a year through outsourcing firms Tata, Infosys, and Cognizant. Google and Microsoft can pay upwards of $100,000. The visas are incredibly popular, and applications are so heavy that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) hits its cap within days. The New York Times reported that the cap was hit this year within four days.

A senior administration official said the goal is to eventually move away from an H1B visa lottery geared toward low-wage workers and move toward a system favoring more skilled and better educated workers. “You're creating an entirely new structure for awarding these visas. I mean, it is a completely -- it is a total transformation of the H-1B program,” the official said (via Fortune).

The government agencies tasked with proposing reforms are the Departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security, and State. The goal is to “crack down on fraud and abuse.”

The order comes as 45 and the various agencies have been making modifications and clarifications to existing law (via National Law Review). For example:

  • On April 5, the Department of Labor announced plans to protect U.S. workers from H1B program discrimination by providing greater transparency and oversight in coordination of efforts by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department.
  • On April 3, USCIS revealed it would take a more targeted approach when making site visits across the country to H1B petitioners and to the worksites of H1B employees, beginning immediately. USCIS will now focus its enforcement efforts on auditing employers who employ H1B computer personnel for contract positions,
  • On March 31, USCIS issued a directive clarifying whether the position of “Computer Programmer” is deemed an an H1B-eligible “specialty occupation.” It revoked as obsolete a 17-year-old directive that offered guidance to those making H1B visa determinations on the computer technology sector. 

While the executive order may have good intentions, it doesn't take into account that U.S. schools lag behind numerous foreign countries in tech education, making some U.S. candidates less qualified than those from overseas. A Pew Research report in February said that U.S. academic achievement is in the middle of the pack compared to other countries in science, math and reading–all essential elements for a tech job. 

The ham-handed approach to H1B visas at the moment could have a significant impact going forward on the quality of work we see coming out of Silicon Valley. Hopefully companies hiring overseas talent can bolster their job documentation efforts enough to assuage the current onslaught in proving hired candidates are indeed essential to the company and provide a benefit not found in applicants from the United States. Of course, if a U.S. candidate is more qualified, but a less-qualified overseas candidate will accept less money, hopefully companies will do what is best for the consumer, and not necessarily best for the bottom line.

Contributing Editor
Filed Under
From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 19, 2017 9:40 AM

    John Keefer posted a new article, 'Buy American, Hire American' Order Means More H1B Visa Changes Coming

    • reply
      April 19, 2017 11:32 AM

      Oh, fuck off with this. This is straight up shoddy journalism. You show your bias right off the bat with your first sentence. I'm about as anti-Trump as you can get, but this is one of the actual good things he is doing for tech workers in the US. H-1B is heavily abused in the US. It was originally designed to bring in talent, and brilliant minds from outside the US and create a path for them to citizenship. It's become nothing but a tool to replace American workers with lower paid foreign workers so large corporations can save money. Even the original author of the H-1B bill despises what it has become and what it is used for today. H-1B reform is needed badly. Maybe actually research the issue first and see how US tech workers feel about H-1B reform before you let your blind hatred of the Mango Mussolini influence your journalism.

      • reply
        April 19, 2017 2:21 PM

        i have many friends who are working in the US on h1b visas and they are getting paid comparably to their american counterparts. so no, it hasn't "become nothing but a tool to replace American workers with lower paid foreign workers". it quite clearly is being used in part to hire foreign talent.

        • reply
          April 19, 2017 2:26 PM

          The idea is the H1B's are increasing the supply of people in those fields for American companies, and the increased supply leads to decreased salary across the board.

          It's not going to do much across the board, but it likely will benefit Americans in the cyber/tech sector since the potential pool is set to decrease.

          • reply
            April 19, 2017 2:26 PM

            *across the profession for the first part.

            For the average American it won't do crap, but hey - if you're a solid software developer then you're set to make even more bank than you already do.

          • reply
            April 19, 2017 2:33 PM

            don't disagree that increasing the labour supply may drive down wages across the board. that's an economic question i won't speculate on.

            i'm responding to the claim that it is "nothing but a tool to replace American workers with lower paid foreign workers"

        • reply
          April 19, 2017 2:28 PM

          You sure it h1b and not a TN1, since presumably your friends are Canadian as well?

          • reply
            April 19, 2017 2:31 PM

            some are canadian others are not.

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 2:39 PM

              also iirc the h1b may be better suited for getting a green card

              • reply
                April 19, 2017 2:58 PM

                From the piece on npr, it sounds like the problem is the lottery. India basically floods the system with with applications, and gets the the majority of the slots. The workers then come here and learn the specific job position, after which the position moved permanently to India. So instead of bringing the best and brightest to th U.S., we've created a program that continuously moves jobs overseas.

        • reply
          April 19, 2017 2:31 PM

          Living in LA, I've seen both the good and bad side of H1B.

          For the MOST part, H1B talent is definitely of higher quality (companies have multi year sponsorships) of engineers that are definitely qualified for the job at hand.

          THEN I have definitely seen the flip side where DBAs (of business mission critical) are making 60k/year (or less) in Los Angeles. Lots of examples with companies using a heavy H1B engineering/IT crew, it's really unfortunate to see. I only imagine this being even more common in the midwest, where engineering/IT isn't as heavily dense.

          Plenty of "local" companies will be hired to then contract out to foreign workers (which would get around the currently proposed H1B changes) -- a practice that will likely increase IF the H1B changes go into effect.

          • reply
            April 19, 2017 2:59 PM

            I'm in IT and the H1b's are definitely less skilled than their American counterparts. It's understandable, American IT workers gotta work their ass off if they want to get out of the 55k helpdesk role. H1b companies like infosys just have to undercut them.

            It's even worse in entry level IT positions.

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 3:08 PM

              Entry level IT and companies like Infosys and Tata definitely abuse the shit out of the system. Both of those companies are rife with diploma mills, setting up interviews with the absolutely incorrect person, etc.

              The real issue is that the demand is high for highly skilled workers and there are plenty of companies that don't want to pay skilled worker prices. H1B abuse is here and the it's not punitive enough to stop large companies like Infosys and Tata from gobbling up all the available vacancies. If the US were to perform a mass audit, I'm sure hundreds of companies would be flagged for tens of thousands of abuses.

      • reply
        April 19, 2017 2:57 PM

        Yep shoddy af. H1B's have injected life into a vibrant Indian community stateside but you can't deny it depresses IT wages. Most programmers don't work for 65k. Most CCIE's don't work for 70-75k. Threatening to "bring in the H1B's" whenever a company can't find an American to work cheaply is fuckin wrong and a clear abuse of the program.

        • reply
          April 19, 2017 3:16 PM

          i have yet to hear a good argument for why someone born in america deserves a job more than someone born in india. if foreign born workers are having their visas held hostage as a salary negotiating tactic then i think that's an issue, but otherwise excluding them from the job-pool seems like pure placeism.

          • reply
            April 19, 2017 3:22 PM

            Why can't we level the playing field? Someone born in America doesn't deserve a job more than someone born in India but they do deserve a fair shot at the job at a fair salary.

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 3:28 PM

              to make it a level playing field you would have to let foreigners apply for the same jobs as you

              • reply
                April 19, 2017 3:29 PM

                If they have a valid visa, they can do that.

                • reply
                  April 19, 2017 3:34 PM

                  my point is if you want to "level the playing field" you need to allow them to compete for the same jobs, whether it's by giving everyone visas or some other mechanism. if there is a legal impediment to them being hired into the same (high paying) jobs as you, then it is not level.

                  • reply
                    April 19, 2017 3:39 PM

                    They can already do that but they'll have to go through the same interview/resume process that I do. That being said, to "level the playing field" American workers will also have to be allowed to compete for the same jobs as H1bs. That means they have to meet the same requirements ie. Degrees verified, interviews given, no Infosys/tata allowed to make deals, etc.

                    H1b visas will also be opened up to competition. They can't be hogged by one country or a few companies. That's fair.

                  • reply
                    April 19, 2017 3:40 PM

                    > if there is a legal impediment to them being hired into the same (high paying) jobs as you, then it is not level.

                    The same can be said about minimum wage jobs.

                    Imagine you're in NY and the state minimum wage is higher than in another state (say AK). The worker from AK applies for some paperwork/certificate to allow them to work in NY for a wage that isn't the minimum in the state. Same qualifications, same job and same experience -- they simply are willing to be paid less to do the same. AK workers will replace NY workers en masse.

                    The legal impediment isn't currently strong enough to discourage the abuse. In areas like SF and LA, abuse isn't happen as often due to the sheer density of talent. Once you move away from tech heavy areas, then the abuse become obvious.

                    "Leveling the playing field", when it comes to tech jobs, *should* include market wages. Plenty of companies get around this due to fancy lawyer wording that make it impossible for local talent to be found -- thus hiring a foreign worker with a unique skillset that also happens to be much less expensive.

                    • reply
                      April 19, 2017 3:43 PM

                      I also think that companies like Infosys/Tata should be subject to the same diversity rules as American companies. IE if your employees are 99% Indian and male, there's a problem.

          • reply
            April 19, 2017 5:03 PM

            If a company is run on American soil with all the advantages, infrastructure and connections that affords then American citizens definitely deserve any job that company offers. You want to use foreign engineers, move the company to that country.

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 7:06 PM

              why? what is the moral or economic reasoning behind this favouritism? if we are restricting employment across political borders should, for example, Californian companies refuse to hire new Yorkers?

              • reply
                April 19, 2017 7:26 PM

                or should France refuse to hire Germans? Or the England not hire Irish? etc. I'm interested in actual arguments.

              • reply
                April 19, 2017 7:29 PM

                If you ignore the fact that New Yorkers and Californians pay federal taxes, yeah.

                • reply
                  April 19, 2017 8:30 PM

                  all residents including foreign workers pay federal taxes

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 7:52 PM

              that is such a short-sighted way to look at it. Immigrants are the backbone of american innovation, always have been. We should be glad people from all over the world want to work here, so we can keep picking the best and brightest.

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 8:00 PM

              I'm as pro-America as anybody but this is nonsense.

              • reply
                April 19, 2017 8:09 PM

                Actually agree with Virus here. Nobody should be afraid of a little competition. Bringing some fairness to the H1B program is all I ask.

              • reply
                April 19, 2017 9:47 PM

                I'm not pro-America, I'm anti-Corporatism.

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 10:13 PM

              American citizens don't deserve anything they haven't paid for. That's not my opinion, that's how America works, that's the ideal of America: If you can't pay for yourself, you die in a ditch like the literally worthless human-sized waste of space that you are

              If a company is paying taxes, then their use of the glorious advantages, infrastructure and connections in the gilded lands of America is legitimate - requiring companies to only hire Real Americans would be a great way to make even more companies move even more of their operations and thus jobs and thus taxes abroad, so while it's a bad idea for the US I 100% support the bad idea it because it's a Real American idea like many other Real American ideas will only harm the Real Americans supporting it

              • reply
                April 19, 2017 10:19 PM

                And of course, if companies' taxes in the US aren't paying for them cynically exploiting all the wonders that America has to offer them, then the fault is with the taxes and they should be fixed before blaming companies that only want to operate there and thus "stimulate the economy" there

                It's like with tax loop holes and the like: Why shouldn't a company avail itself of every dollar of advantage afforded them by way of shitty tax laws made by corrupt shit eating politicians in it for no-one but themselves?

                Fix taxes, don't chase companies out of the country, to the country's own detriment, because of some misguided view that Real Americans "definitely deserve" anything

              • reply
                April 19, 2017 10:53 PM

                ^ This sociopath sentiment is why I'm a socialist.

                Anyway, you're coming into dangerously close strawman territory. The reason American companies owe American citizens isn't because of some nationalistic sense of "Real Americans" deserving jobs by virtue of just being Americans. They worked and payed their taxes which created the foundations for giant corporations to exist. Who built the roads, telecommunication lines, plumbing? Who upholds the law and financial services,? Corporations that exist because of American infrastructure literally owe American citizens and especially if they continue to operate in America.

                • reply
                  April 19, 2017 10:57 PM

                  No, that's what corporate taxes should pay for as well: Why are only the citizens' taxes paying for corporation's use of infrastructure? (Of course, they might not be wholly, but the point is: Companies should pay in their "fair share" of taxes for their use of infrastructure etc. like everyone else in the country )

      • reply
        April 19, 2017 3:53 PM

        I was on an H1-B until recently (green card now). I make over 300k a year. Am I a low paid foreigner displacing American workers?

        I'm not denying that there's abuse, but as with all programs that people think are rife with abuse, I get you it's a tiny percentage.

        • reply
          April 19, 2017 4:00 PM

          Of course you won't see it at that range. I interviewed a ton of H1Bs, many from India. In the 50-80k range they were not qualified. It's almost like they were only taught how to interview for the job. It was horrible.

          • reply
            April 19, 2017 4:10 PM

            i assume you didn't hire the unqualified applicants?

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 4:18 PM

              I wasn't the only interviewer but we did hire a couple that didn't last too long. American workers were asking for 10-20k more than the H1Bs so they took a gamble.

        • reply
          April 19, 2017 4:17 PM

          It's definitely not a tiny percentage. I'm aware of H1B contractors being converted to FTEs (incluing the H1B transfer and investigation into where they are on I194). A job description is posted on dice, monster, etc, with specialized job skills and experience that coincidentally the contractor being converted happens to have.

          I've never seen the hiring managers get resumes from US citizens.

          I'm glad you're so fortunate, but you are the exception, not the rule.

          • reply
            April 19, 2017 4:30 PM

            I bet you 99% of all H1-B workers in big successful companies (MS, FB, Google, etc.) are legitimate candidates. Those companies also make up the bulk of H1-B applications.

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 4:34 PM

              Let's make sure we're not talking past each other. the majority are qualified and are good workers. But do they offer a skillset that can't be found locally? No - though that's become true only because folks with those skillset are pursuing other industries.

              • reply
                April 19, 2017 7:23 PM

                I haven't had to deal with this personally, though in my current job I'd say almost half, or possibly more, of the guys around me are probably H1-B guys (and, yeah, all from India). But, I kinda feel your comment "But do they offer a skillset that can't be found locally? No" is pretty much the linchpin to the argument against. It certainly doesn't seem like the skill set doesn't exist domestically, or even that there are too few potential candidates. It's that companies don't want to pay the industry demanded wage. Yeah, this is purely my speculation as an outsider that doesn't deal with this. But, from what I've seen, most of the work could be done by guys I know, but they wouldn't for the money being offered.

              • reply
                April 19, 2017 11:00 PM

                Are there people who can do the job in America? Sure! Are there enough of them to fill the positions that need to be filled? No!

                It's so goddamn incredibly hard to hire a talented engineer. There are lots of average and sub-par engineers around, sure, but to get someone who can really make shit happen? You can spend months trying to hire that, pay 200+ thousand a year, etc. etc. and still not find them. H1-B doesn't magically solve that, but it does mean you're now looking at talent from all over the world instead of just America, so your odds are better.

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 4:36 PM

              There's more than a couple big successful companies that abuse the hell out of the H1B program. Tightening up the rules should affect those guys more than anyone else, so why worry?

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 7:46 PM

              This is only sort of true, there are a lot of H1B visas that go to butts-in-seats IT outsourcing companies:


              "Of the 20 companies that received the most H-1B visas in 2014, 13 were global outsourcing operations, according to an analysis of federal records by Professor Hira. The top 20 companies took about 40 percent of the visas available — about 32,000"

              "Many of the outsourcing firms’ temporary workers earn $60,000 or just a little more, according to federal data compiled by Professor Hira."

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 7:56 PM

              You're fucking right they are.

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 9:20 PM

              I work at a big successful company and I'm currently doing interviews. 95% of the people who I'm getting resumes from are Indian H1B. It's really weird. Their resumes say they have several years of experience but when I ask them basic algorithms, they get tripped up. One guy even refused to code, telling me that he hasn't written any code in 4 years. Wtf?

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 10:10 PM

              Tata and Infosys make up the bulk of H1B

            • reply
              April 19, 2017 11:19 PM

              Not really:

              "The biggest employers are India-based outsourcing companies like Wipro Technologies, Infosys, Tech Mahindra and Tata Consultancy Services. These firms contract with banks, health care companies and other businesses to handle various computing tasks and bring in thousands of immigrants to do the work. "


            • reply
              April 20, 2017 1:40 AM

              Nope, not even close. I think Tata has more h1bs than any other company and they pay peanuts.

              Silicon Valley companies make up a very very small percentage of H1B's, which is a shame because they generally don't abuse the program like the big consulting firms do.

        • reply
          April 19, 2017 5:13 PM

          Are you an exec / vp? Can't believe how unqualified some of those guys are and how much money they get away with taking home.

      • reply
        April 19, 2017 8:15 PM

        Lol at mango Mussolini

      • reply
        April 19, 2017 11:17 PM

        This nytimes article made me O_o:

        "Labor Department data shows that about 40 percent of the visas go to entry-level workers and another 40 percent go to people with limited experience and skills."

        "Under the H-1B program, “all companies have to attest that they tried to find an American,” said Russ Harrison, director of government relations at IEEE-USA, the American branch of IEEE, the largest professional association for computer scientists and electrical engineers. “But all you have to do is check a box.”"

        "The government will also publicly release more data about other visa programs, such as the L-1, which allows workers officially employed overseas by a company to work in the United States. “We don’t know how many L-1s are here, who employs them, where they are located and what they are paid,” said Ronil Hira, an associate professor of political science at Howard University who has extensively studied immigrant visa programs."


      • reply
        April 20, 2017 8:44 AM

        Fuck Trump yo

    • reply
      April 19, 2017 1:04 PM

      While the executive order may have good intentions, it doesn't take into account that U.S. schools lag behind numerous foreign countries in tech education, making some U.S. candidates less qualified than those from overseas.

      I mean... You even mention it in the article. The executive order is to REVIEW the current H1B practices and present findings.

      One would expect the review to contain data like that.

    • reply
      April 19, 2017 8:31 PM

      Trump Dump on the front page, wtg John

    • reply
      April 19, 2017 8:35 PM

      If more metered and directed towards games talent, this could have been an interesting piece.

      Maybe some interviews with publishers and devs about how this has employees and hiring practices scared, but it was pretty flat and somewhat misinformed/misinforming.

    • reply
      April 19, 2017 8:36 PM

      how many iPhones could I buy for an H1B employee?