This was first posted on the AAIHR blog.
The H-1B is the main US professional visa. H-1B visa demand follows the US unemployment rate. When the US unemployment rate is high and many US workers are out of work, H-1B demand is low. When the US unemployment is low and many US workers are employed, H-1B demand is high.
Last year 232,000 H-1B petitions were field on the first and only day of the H-1B cap window. This resulted in an H-1B lottery, whereby USCIS rejected 64% of otherwise approvable H-1B petitions. On the other hand, at the height of the US recession in 2010 it took about 300 days for the H-1B cap to reach the statutory limit of 85,000.
The tech industry is the largest user of H-1B visas. Stories of H-1B abuse plague the industry. Notably Disney has been sued by American workers who claim to have been forced to train the H-1B replacements.
The healthcare industry uses H-1B visas too, although at much smaller rates that tech in spite of the fact that the shortages of US labor in these occupations are greater than in IT. Physical Therapists and Occupation Therapists qualify for the H-1B. The US Department of Labor has repeatedly found that the importation of these Registered Nurses and Physical Therapists does not negatively impact the working conditions or salaries of US workers.
With each Republican Presidential caucus or primary, Donald Trump is inching closer to the Republican nomination. His positon on the H-1B visa appears to be fluid. For months he has generally disfavored any increase in visa quotas. In particular he has aimed his glare at the alleged abuses in the IT industry.
It was newsworthy then at the Thursday March 3 debate when Trump announced, “I’m changing,” in response to a question about his H-1B position. After being pressed by moderator Megyn Kelly, Trump fleshed out his new position, “I'm softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country." This statement appeared to indicate the Trump would be in favoring of allowing foreign-born US college graduates a path to work authorization.
The “softening” of his stance is not without controversy. In response, it appears that Trump may now have dialed back his “softening” and is now staking a middle position Shortly after the debate, he reiterated his promise to end “abuse” in the H-1B system.
Perhaps Trump is playing politics. One view is that Trump may think that he has the Republican nomination in hand and is therefore tacking toward the center. This is a strategy that Republicans have used for a generation, ever since it was famously executed by then-candidate Richard Nixon.
A move to the center may mean that Trump would be willing to work with a healthcare industry that has giant supply shortages on the horizon and little hope to curing the shortages with US labor.