Sen. Durbin accuses Trump of breaking his H-1B promise

The longtime H-1B reform advocate has run out a patience with the president

H-1B Visa statue of liberty against american flag

In November, President Donald Trump said on his first day in office he would order an investigation of H-1B abuses.

That never happened, though critics held their tongues. After all, Trump had repeatedly campaigned for H-1B reforms, even inviting laid-off Disney IT workers to speak at his campaign rallies. Even so, patience is ending.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill), a long-time critic of the H-1B visa program and co-sponsor of a reform bill with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), accused Trump today of failing "to put American workers first by cracking down on H-1B visa abuse.

"I am disappointed that you have broken your campaign promise to take action on the first day of your Administration to reform foreign guest worker visas - especially the H-1B visa - to put American workers first," Durbin wrote in a letter to Trump sent Friday.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Durbin's letter could be dismissed by some as a partisan attack by a Democrat, but he is not alone. The IEEE-USA has also warned that Trump is in danger of "letting down American workers."

A key issue is the upcoming April 1 H-1B visa lottery. Trump has voiced support for a merit-based distribution system. As it stands now, however, the H-1B visas for the 2018 fiscal year will be distributed by lottery, no different than any other year. As a result, the IEEE-USA has warned that unless Trump moves to change the lottery, thousands of visas will go to offshore outsourcing firms.

IT workers have long complained about training H-1B-holding replacements, and Trump has spoken of the problem.

"Companies are importing low-wage workers on H-1B visas to take jobs from young college-trained Americans," Trump said at a campaign rally last fall for Millennial-age voters in Ohio.

It's not clear how much authority Trump even has to change the lottery. There are three competing views.

The IEEE-USA believes Trump needed to make a regulation to change the annual H-1B distribution. But Trump needed to do so this week to meet a 30-day notice requirement. But an official from the American Immigration Lawyers Association believes the only way Trump can change the lottery is with legislation, which means he has to wait for Congress to act. A third view is that Trump can change the lottery right up to April 1 with an executive order.

The Trump administration has given no indication of what it will do about this year's visa lottery.

"The American people deserve an explanation for your decision not to pursue H-1B reforms on your first day in office," wrote Durbin.

"If you do not take action in the next few weeks, outsourcers will secure the right to import tens of thousands of low-wage foreign guest workers to replace American workers," wrote Durbin. "This is in addition to hundreds of thousands of H-1B workers who are already employed by outsourcing companies in the United States."

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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