US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order for tightening the rules of the H-1B visa programme to stop its "abuse" and ensure that the visas are given to the "most-skilled or highest paid" petitioners, giving a major blow to Indian IT industry and professionals.
Acting on his 'Buy American, Hire American' pledge, Trump signed the order that calls for an overhaul of the programme at the Kenosha, Wisconsin, headquarters of tool-maker Snap-on Inc on Tuesday.
"Right now, widespread abuse in our immigration system is allowing American workers of all backgrounds to be replaced by workers brought in from other countries to fill the same job for, sometimes, less pay. This will stop", Trump told an enthusiastic audience in Wisconsin before signing the order.
He said the order sets in motion the first steps to initiate "long-overdue" reforms to end "visa abuses".
"Right now, H-1B visas are awarded in a totally random lottery, and that's wrong. Instead, they should be given to the most skilled and highest-paid applicants, and they should never, ever be used to replace Americans", he asserted.
"No one can compete with American workers when they're given a fair and level playing field, which has not happened for decades", he said.
Trump said his administration is going to enforce 'Hire American' rules that are designed to protect jobs and wages of workers in the United States.
"We believe jobs must be offered to American workers first. Does that make sense?" he said.
But the New York Times noted that Trump's announcement came at a jittery time for the White House, as he faces the 100th day of his presidency without much to show for it in the way of legislative accomplishment, after the defeat of his health care overhaul.
"And his two high-profile executive orders cracking down on immigration from predominantly Muslim nations have been stymied by the courts", the paper pointed out.
Trump's executive order also declares that American projects should be made with American goods.
"No longer are we going to allow foreign countries to cheat our producers and our workers out of federal contracts.
Everyone in my administration will be expected to enforce every last 'Buy American' provision on behalf of the American worker, and we are going to investigate every single trade deal that undermines these provisions", he said.
According to the executive order, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labour, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.
In a statement, the White House said H-1B visas are supposed to bring the highest skilled and paid labour to the United States.
But according to studies, 80 per cent of the approved applications were for the two lowest wage levels allowed.
"Currently, companies routinely abuse the H-1B visa programme by replacing American workers with lower paid foreign workers", it said.
Reforming the H-1B visa system was one of the major election promises of Trump. As per several US reports, a majority of the H-1B visas every year are grabbed by Indian IT professionals.
India accounts for the highest pool of qualified IT professionals, whose services go a long way in making American companies globally competitive.
As mandated by the Congress, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) every year issues 65,000 H-1B visas and another 20,000 to those applicants having masters and higher degrees from a US educational institution.
This month USCIS received 199,000 H-1B visa petitions and as a result, the federal agency had to resort to a computerised draw of lots to decide the fate of successful applicant.
Betsy Lawrence, the director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told CNN that, "Although released with ceremonial flair, the order will have no immediate impact on H-1Bs."
"Many of the changes to the H-1B programme contemplated by the administration would require legislative action or rule-making and would take time to go through the necessary processes", he said.
Meanwhile, some US lawmakers said the executive order signed by Trump calling for a review of H-1B visas was too little and too late.
"This does nothing", said Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. "Like all the other executive orders, it's just words - he's calling for new studies. It's not going to fix the problem. It's not going to create a single job."
"We already know H-1B visa abuse hurts American workers. Simply reviewing the programme is too little, too late", Senator Dick Durbin said.
US lawmakers have already tabled more than half adozen legislations in the Congress with specific proposals to reform and improve the H-1B visas systems. Many of those proposals, as per industry body Nasscom, are discriminatory and are targeted towards Indian IT companies.
The US tech industry and corporate sector, however, has welcomed the "much-needed" review of the H-1B visa programme and expressed confidence that it would help them bring in the best and the brightest from across the world.