Donald Trump is set to order a new crackdown on a controversial visa programme for skilled workers on Tuesday as well as launch a push for US government agencies to buy more domestically-produced products in an attempt to fulfil promises to abide by a “Buy American/Hire American” credo.
The signing of the latest executive order is due to come during a visit by the US president to the Kenosha, Wisconsin, headquarters of the Snap-on tool company and marks his latest effort to maintain the appeal to working class voters that helped him to the White House.
It also comes just days after he drew criticism from labour unions and economic nationalists in his base for reversing a campaign pledge to label China a currency manipulator. That and other signals have been read as signs that the former reality TV star is bowing to internationalist moderates within his White House on economic policy and walking away from the populist promises that got him elected.
Administration officials said the executive order was aimed at ending fraud and other abuses of the H-1B visa programme used by many Silicon Valley companies and outsourcing giants such as Infosys to bring in foreign workers. It is in high demand with applications earlier this month reaching the annual quota of 85,000 visas in four days.
Rather than award the visas via a random lottery, the administration wants to use a system that better rewards candidates with higher skills and advanced degrees and stops driving down wages for American workers.
More than 80 per cent of the workers now on H-1B visas earn less than the US median wage for their jobs, a senior administration official said. Just 5 per cent have earnings in the highest wage tier.
“The result of that is that workers are often brought in well below market rates to replace American workers,” the official told reporters.
The executive order has limits with any major changes requiring action by Congress. And business groups are likely to fight any legislation ending the programme. But administration officials said after years of lobbying by labour unions and other interest groups, Congress appeared ready to embrace reforms.