Trump's "America First" executive order trip is about more than just "Buying American"

The President is leaving the Beltway today to head out to Wisconsin where he will seek to rally the faithful and sign another executive order. This time it’s back to the entire America First theme, specifically dealing with government agencies and contractors having to buy American materials wherever possible. This would apply to federally funded construction projects (the wall) and a number of transportation and infrastructure projects which receive federal funding from the Department of Transportation. The name of the order is “Buy American, Hire American,” and it’s the second part of that formula which should be drawing more attention than where we purchase our concrete and rebar. (Associated Press)

President Donald Trump is planning to sign an executive order that seeks to make changes to a visa program that brings in high-skilled workers.

Trump is heading Tuesday to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he plans to sign an order dubbed “Buy American, Hire American,” said administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity despite the president’s frequent criticism of the use of anonymous sources.

The officials said the order, which Trump will sign at the headquarters of tool manufacturer Snap-on Inc., would direct the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Labor and State to propose new rules to prevent immigration fraud and abuse. Those departments would also be asked to offer changes so that H-1B visas are awarded to the “most-skilled or highest-paid applicants.”

First of all, I’m completely in favor of all of these Buy American initiatives and have been for years. The government can not and should not be forcing private citizens to buy from this or that supplier, but when the behemoth spends our tax dollars there’s absolutely nothing wrong with insisting the benefits accrue to American employers and their workers. It’s not a significant amount of the nation’s total purchasing clout, but every little bit helps.

The area which deserves far more attention (and has been in need of it for some time) is the second part of the formula. It’s something of a relief to see President Trump taking some action on the H1B visa program. There’s a reason for this system to be in place, at least in theory, but it’s also far too susceptible to abuse. The whole idea was to allow employers the flexibility to hire skilled foreign workers when no American workers could be found to do a particular job. Sadly, that’s not how it plays out in too many cases.

When a company is looking to hire skilled workers for jobs which command enviable salaries, it’s difficult to believe that they can’t find Americans to do the work in a job market which has been sluggish at best for nearly a decade now. But the workers aren’t always living in the right area. If the employer uses the H1B program to bring in some foreign workers who will work for considerably less, the basic flaw in the system is exposed. A computer programmer in New York or San Francisco might be willing to move across the country to Atlanta for a job paying 75 to 100K per year, but they’re probably not going to do it for 35K.

And where are these cheaper replacement workers coming from? As the WaPo reported earlier this month, nearly three quarters of them come from India.

The lottery for such “high-skilled” worker visas opened Monday, with the 85,000 slots expected to fill in a matter of days. Nearly three-quarters of the visas are expected to go to Indian workers, as they have in recent years.

But the Trump administration injected new uncertainty into the H-1B visa process Monday — warning employers against discriminating against U.S.-born workers and announcing site visits to companies that employ a high ratio of workers on H-1B visas.

That brings another layer of complexity into the politics of what Trump is doing. In fact, India has been “freaking out” about it since January. Some of Trump’s critics are describing this effort as something of a bull in the china shop approach, but for once this may be exactly what we need. I’m not saying we should scrap H1B entirely, but there’s got to be a way to monitor it more closely and crack down on the abuse. Here’s hoping that President Trump can do precisely that.

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Jazz Shaw 7:31 PM on October 02, 2022