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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Trump signs executive order restricting visa program while in Kenosha

President Donald Trump signed an executive order while visiting Wisconsin Tuesday to aid American workers by limiting the number of highly skilled foreign workers that technology companies can hire.

The order, which promotes Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” policy campaign, targets the H-1B visa program. There are currently 206 UW-Madison employees in H-1B status. 

"This program is very important to ensuring our ability to hire and retain top-notch faculty and staff in a globally competitive environment," said UW spokesperson Meredith McGlone. "We are reviewing the order to understand its impact on the university." 

The program is said to drive down wages by bringing in cheaper, foreign workers, according to the White House. The directive is meant to act as an end to abuses in the program that’s often used by U.S. technology companies.

Trump signed the directive at Snap-on Inc., a large tool manufacturer in Kenosha, Wis., where he gave a speech highlighting the importance of manufacturing. In 2016, Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin since 1984, running on a campaign promise to create more manufacturing jobs for the state.

The tech industry has argued that the H-1B program is necessary and encourages foreign students to stay in the country after receiving their degrees in high-tech specialties, according to the Associated Press. The program is useful to technology companies since American workers are not always qualified with the skills companies require.

Trump wanted to visit Snap-on because it’s “a company that builds American-made tools with American workers,” said Press Secretary Sean Spicer, according to the Associated Press.

H-1B visas are capped annually at 85,000 people, but typically the number of visas exceeds this cap. In 2017, there were 199,000 visas extended to foreign workers, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Notably, the rate at which employers applied for H-1B visas has decreased by 16 percent since 2016.

The Trump administration wants to award H-1B visas only to the “most-skilled or highest paid applicants,” according to the Associated Press. Other changes could include higher fees for visas or a change in the wage scale.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said she hopes the Trump administration will fulfill its promises to American workers.

“I welcome President Trump's visit to Wisconsin today to highlight a top priority of mine. I’ve long called for President Trump to make good on his Buy America pledge and support my legislation to rebuild our infrastructure with American iron and steel,” Baldwin said in a press release.

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While Trump campaigned with populist sentiments, promising to bring jobs back to America, his own business records have prompted questioning. For instance, Trump-brand clothing is made in non-U.S. factories, and many of Trump hotels and other businesses, including Mar-a-Lago, hire many foreign workers.

According to UW-Madison professor of agricultural and applied economics Ian Coxhead, if the directive reduces the number of skilled workers available, Wisconsin’s labor industries and the state’s level of productivity will suffer.

Coxhead also criticized Trump’s wavering positions.

“This is political theater, this is an attempt to distract voters from the fact that his policies are drifting from the populist ideas to conservative ideas, which is not what he promised in his campaign,” Coxhead said.  

UPDATED: April 19, 2017, 10:45 a.m.: This article was updated to include additional information. 

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