News of changes to the H-1B visa system, which is largely used by outsourcing outfits to bring tech workers, mainly from India, to the US for work, has been floating around for some time after Trump took office.
Some of the bigger US tech companies have reacted to the news by joining their names to a petition to ask Trump to reconsider a ban on residents of seven Muslim-majority countries.
But Bob Cringely, who has been a tech journalist since the late 1970s, said the executive order itself did not say anything about H-1B visas in particular; rather it asked agencies concerned to work on changing visa programmes to benefit US employment and economic productivity.
"The short version is high-tech employers say there is a shortage of good technical workers so they want to hire from abroad. The truth is that there really isn't such a labour shortage, it's all a scam on the part of employers to keep wages and benefits down (there's a shortage of cheap labour, not labour at a fair price) and the worst part is the foreign workers brought in under H-1B are often worse at their jobs than workers who could have been hired locally. The whole programme is a disgrace and Trump was smart to go against it," he said.
He was of the opinion that Trump would act against the H-1B visa programme but that was of no concern as it would, in the main, affect Indian outsourcing companies like Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro and Infosys.
Provided Trump did not mess with the L-1B visa programme, American multinational tech companies stood to gain, he said. This programme allows US multinationals to shift workers from their branches outside the US and bring them to work in America.
L-1B visas are not talked about much but they are of more benefit to US multinationals: there is no limit to the number that can be issued, they allow a worker to stay between five and seven years, they have no minimum wage requirement and dependents of an L-1B visa holder can work right away.
"Think about it, in this case with IBM as an example," Cringely said. "IBM Global Services sees itself as competing with big H-1B users like Tata and Infosys and an H-1B ban or severe limitation would give IBM — or any similar US-based multinational — an advantage, especially if the L-1B visa programme is left untouched.
"With L-1B, IBM can use its own Indian employees making Indian pay and benefits to do the work here in the US. No need to pretend you can't find an American worker as presently required by H-1B. No need to advertise. No need to pretend you are paying a locally competitive wage."