This is a story that definitely didn’t generate much in the way of headlines yesterday. In fact, I’d missed it entirely until later in the evening. President Trump signed a new executive order on Monday curbing the use of H-1B visas which allow foreign workers to come to the United States at the request of companies planning on hiring them. In theory, employers (including the federal government) are supposed to ensure that there are no qualified citizens available to take these jobs before recruiting foreign help through the H-1B program, but enforcement of that provision has proven to be difficult and patchy at best. Rather than focusing on new workers coming in, however, this EO will require all federal agencies to conduct a review and see if any of their current H-1B workers are holding jobs that could be awarded to citizens. Here’s part of the White House announcement of this order, via Breitbart.

President Trump is signing an Executive Order to create a policy where Federal agencies will focus on United States labor in lucrative Federal contracts.

It would be unfair for Federal employers to replace perfectly qualified Americans with workers from other countries.

The Executive Order will require all Federal agencies to complete an internal audit and assess whether they are in compliance with the requirement that only United States citizens and nationals are appointed to the competitive service.

The Department of Labor will also finalize guidance to prevent H-1B employers from moving H-1B workers to other employers’ job sites to displace American workers.

How long have we been talking about this problem? Well, I wrote about it more than two and a half years ago but there doesn’t seem to have been much progress on tackling the issue since then.

This really should have been a no-brainer for Washington from the beginning and that’s particularly true of government jobs. But with the tens of millions of people currently out of work because of the pandemic, the need for action was even more urgent. Too many jobs lost to the government-mandated shutdowns may not be coming back if this drags on much longer. And with all of those workers available to pick from, any government entity or private employer with government contracts should be able to find more than enough labor here at home rather than looking abroad.

As Breitbart indicates, the situation that probably pushed President Trump to action involves the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA has apparently been trying to outsource more than 200 jobs to companies that specialize in importing H-1B workers. But the TBA will likely be found to have ignored many Americans who are out of work but may not be interested in taking the lower wages that these companies offer. And since they are subcontractors, they don’t have to comply with the same wage standards that direct employees would benefit from.

It doesn’t end with the TVA, however, because there are multiple federal and state agencies around the country who engage in these practices. Under this EO, they will all have to audit their current staffing and hiring practices to curb the abuse of the H-1B visa program. This is a timely move by the White House and one you’re not hearing about very much on cable news because it’s hard to mount much of an argument against it. All Trump is really doing here is beefing up enforcement of existing labor laws that prioritize the hiring of qualified American citizens. It would take some seriously cynical political leanings to argue very loudly against that.