From his first days in the Oval Office, President Trump has prioritized the American worker. His policy decisions reflect this: Broad tax cuts, commonsense deregulatory actions, and bold trade deals that brought millions more jobs and rising wages by re-invigorating America’s business sector—a “blue-collar boom,” until a virus from China forced us to hit pause.
Last week the president took an important step to help Americans who have been put out of work by the virus. He signed a Proclamation to guarantee that the millions of Americans seeking to return to the workforce are first in line to fill the jobs coming back online.
The Proclamation temporarily halts, through the end of the year, entry into the U.S. of certain temporary foreign workers, and extends the President’s suspension on certain immigrant visas.
The Proclamation also directs the Department of Labor to make long-term reforms and enhancements to the H-1B visa program, a program that was intended to supplement the U.S. workforce with exceptional, high-skilled foreign workers, but which has often been misused as a source of cheap foreign labor.
The H-1B program was never intended to create a pool of foreign labor that displaces Americans’ opportunities for good-paying jobs.
More than 20 million Americans have been put out of work since February, when we were enjoying record-low unemployment. And while we are on the road to recovery—in May, 2.5 million jobs were filled—many Americans remain unemployed and eager to return to work. The president’s order ensures that these unemployed men and women have the first crack at available jobs.
The president also remains mindful that business growth and flexibility are essential to job creation. Sometimes circumstances will arise when a worker overseas is needed to fill a vital role, so the Proclamation provides narrow exceptions for visa entrants who would serve critical national interests like defense, law enforcement, maintaining the food supply, and providing medical care in response to COVID-19.
Similarly, foreign workers who are deemed necessary to the immediate and continued economic recovery may also be exempted. The Department of Labor will be working with the Departments of State and Homeland Security to establish exemption standards over the coming days.
The Proclamation also directs longer-term reforms that will support business growth and American workers by re-aligning guest worker programs with their original purpose. H-1B visas were intended to be a pipeline for highly skilled and specialized foreign talent that could complement and bolster the work being done by American employees.
But today many visas go to nonimmigrant workers whose skills are not particularly specialized and who are paid an entry-level wage that undercuts the pay of American workers. The H-1B program was never intended to create a pool of foreign labor that displaces Americans’ opportunities for good-paying jobs.
At the president’s direction, the Department of Labor will be reforming the H-1B visa program to protect American jobs and wages. We are strengthening wage protections for American workers and putting an end to abuses of the program, such as when non-U.S. workers are hired by one company to displace U.S. workers at another company.
The Labor Department is also increasing its cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security to identify businesses that misuse the H-1B program to the detriment of American workers. These reforms will help the program bring high-level talent to American businesses—and protect American workers—in the way Congress originally intended.
American workers and businesses have flourished under the pro-growth policies of the past three years. The administration will continue to support economic expansion that increases opportunities for American workers.
Eugene Scalia is the United States Secretary of Labor.