Business Lobbies Bombard Trump to Block Immigration Reforms

US President Donald Trump pauses while speaking to the press after a meeting with banking executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House March 11, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Business lobbyists are bombarding President Donald Trump with demands that he drop his draft plan to let Americans get some of the U.S. jobs now held by at least one million foreign contract workers.

The alarm among business groups suggests that Trump has decided — although not announced — to shut down part of the Fortune 500’s special pipeline of foreign workers, said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

“I think they are clearly nervous that in this [economic and political] environment that a president who ostensibly champions American workers may go against the recommendations of the technology industry,” he said. “They are right to be nervous,” he said, adding, “but they shouldn’t be that worried given this administration’s track record.”

Cutbacks of foreign workers “would substantially limit the ability of many companies to help get the American economy moving again,” said a May 26 letter by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council.

The May 26 letter arrived as U.S. unemployment numbers headed towards 30 million — including many swing-voting college graduates who will either vote for or against Trump in November.

Any cutback to foreign workers “would be potentially devastating to [our members’] ability to grow their business and drive innovation,” said a May 28 letter from a trade association for hiring managers, SHRM.

“Our members have similarly signaled alarm at the prospect of any curtailment of the Optional Practical Training [OPT] program,” said the SHRM letter, referring to the huge OPT program that gives tax-subsidies to U.S. employers that hire foreign graduates, usually by dangling the promise of free citizenship.

The letters from the Chamber and SHRM follow a March 26 letter from many large and smaller firms, which suggested that any visa cutbacks will force companies to unfairly discriminate against foreigners:

We urge you to avoid outcomes, even for temporary periods, that restrict employment-authorization terms, conditions, or processing of L-1, H-1B, F-1, or H-4 [visa worker] nonimmigrants. Constraints on our human capital are likely to result in unintended consequences and may cause substantial economic uncertainty if we have to recalibrate our personnel based on country of birth.

The pipeline of H-1B, OPT, and other visa workers allows Fortune 500 companies, including many technology firms, to keep at least 1.3 million foreign workers in U.S. jobs. It also allows the firms to provide on-the-job training to hundreds of thousands of additional workers in India and elsewhere, so helping the companies to shift at least one million additional jobs overseas via the U.S-India Outsourcing Economy.

But Trump’s draft cutbacks would pressure Fortune 500 companies to hire U.S professionals and graduates.

Polls show the pro-American plan has at least 2:1 support among swing voters in what will be a hard-fought reelection campaign.

“It is mystifying that the president hasn’t done anything meaningful to keep his [2016] campaign promise about ending the H-1B program,” said Krikorian. “They’ve done some very minor administrative things, but there is plenty more they could have done and could still do. Why they are not acting now when the economy is so weak, and there is widespread political support for reforming H-1Bs, I’m not sure … [but] they’re too solicitous of the concerns of tech lobbyists.”

Critics of the OPT program say the numbers show it is used by companies to hire foreign graduates instead of qualified U.S. graduates.

U.S. CEOs prefer foreign graduates because foreign workers will stay put and do repetitive skilled work for many years to get green cards. The OPT program also allows companies to keep importing foreigners for jobs in the high-cost districts along the coasts, instead of setting up offices in lower-cost employees and locations, such as in the districts of Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH).

But Stivers is trying to collect signatures from fellow legislators for a letter urging Trump to preserve the OPT program:

We urge the administration to publicly clarify that OPT will remain fully intact so we send the right messages abroad about the U.S. as an attractive destination for international students.

The last thing our nation should do in this area is make ourselves less competitive by weakening OPT. The program is essential to the many international students who desire not just to study in the U.S. but also have a post completion training experience.

Stivers appeal for more hiring of foreigners — instead of graduates in his own 15th District — is echoed by several additional signatories to his letter. The other signatories include Reps. Bill Flores (R-TX), Peter King (R-NY), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), John Katko (R-NY), and Rob Woodall (R-GA).

The SHRM letter included a threat from one of its members saying they would rather shrink recruitment than hire older Americans or Americans from lower-prestige universities:

The OPT program serves largely as a pipeline for talent in the U.S, also most often for our engineering department. Our on-campus recruiters have shared with us that at the top-tier schools where they recruit, the vast majority of computer science/engineering students are foreign students who rely on OPT to work in the U.S. after graduation. In 2019, we had roughly 45% of software engineering training class hires that were in need of OPT work authorization. Without support of OPT work authorization, we would likely hire 45% less people that would be contributing to engineering work as we can’t find enough qualified U.S. workers to fill these positions.

“What the companies are saying is that Americans are not good enough to staff the modern economy,” said Krikorian. “You have to admire that gall — they are arguing with a straight face that 25 percent of unemployment is not high enough for them to resort to hiring Americans.”

The government’s job is not to provide favored companies with planeloads of suitable workers, Krikorian said. “It is not Congress’s job to maximize their share price — the role of federal policy is to create the rules within which American companies and American workers hash out their relationship” in the free market, he said. 

But, he added, “the point is to make sure that companies hire Americans [because] it is really of little benefit [to Americans] if the people they are hiring are not Americans.”

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