H1-B Visa In Spotlight As Trump Overhauls Immigration Program

April 18, 2017
Trump to overhaul visa program for high-skilled workers; U.S. Housing Starts Decreased 6.8% in March; IMF Increases Global Growth Forecast to 3.5%, Seeing Positive Signals on Global Investment, Manufacturing and Consumer Confidence.

Policy Watch

  • Trump to overhaul visa program for high-skilled workers. President Trump will sign an executive order on Tuesday that aims to overhaul the H-1B visa program used by tech companies to bring high-skilled workers to the U.S. The administration says that the executive order will make it more difficult for U.S. companies to look overseas for employees to fill middle-income jobs. Senior administration officials described the current H-1B visa program as a lottery system that indiscriminately hands out work visas to contracting firms recruiting low-skilled, low-wage workers to replace domestic laborers. They say that a new system is necessary to ensure that the program returns to its original purpose of bringing in high-skilled, high-paid workers to fill more specialized or technical roles. The executive order will direct the Labor, Justice, Homeland security and State departments to undertake a wholesale review of the H-1B visa program and to put forth recommendations that can be achieved administratively or through legislation. The Departments could adjust the wage scale the government uses to assess applicants, giving preference to workers with advanced degrees or taking “a more vigorous stance” in enforcing violations of the problem in an effort to root out fraud and abuse. The executive order is not expected to address the number of visas that are given out annually, but is intended to raise the qualifying criteria for applicants so that only top earners with specific skill sets are considered. [The Hill]

Economic Indicators & News

  • U.S. Housing Starts Decreased 6.8% in March. U.S. housing starts fell 6.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.215 million from a month earlier, according to the Commerce Department on Tuesday. However, the decrease is not enough to signal a reversal from the long-term trend of improvement in new home construction. The decline in housing starts comes after an unusually strong winter, boosted by temperate weather in most parts of the country. Single-family housing starts in February hit their highest level since October 2007. Residential building permits, which can signal future home construction and tend to be a less volatile measure, rose 3.6% to an annual pace of 1.260 million last month and were up 17% compared with the same month last year. The trend for the year in housing is one of steady improvement. New home construction was up 8.1% in the first quarter from the same period in 2016, and permits in the first three months of 2017 jumped 10.4% from a year earlier. [WSJ]
  • IMF Increases Global Growth Forecast to 3.5%, Seeing Positive Signals on Global Investment, Manufacturing and Consumer Confidence. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that the global economy is on course for its best performance in several years, despite trade tensions and looming geopolitical threats. In its flagship report on the state of the economy, the IMF nudged up its forecast for world growth this year a tenth of a percentage point to 3.5%, the fastest rate in five years if the IMF is correct. Investors are concerned over a potential U.S. standoff with North Korea, France’s elections and Washington’s use of force in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Nonetheless, global investment, manufacturing and consumer confidence are signaling strength. U.S. growth is projected to accelerate, and Europe and Japan are now showing signs of recovery. Oil prices have risen from 2016 lows, increasing inflation readings from exceptionally low levels and offering hope for economies that are dependent on the export of commodities. The IMF kept its forecast pickup for U.S. growth at 2.3% for the year – up from 1.6% last year – and notched higher outlooks for all five of Europe’s largest economies. The U.K’s bump up was the largest, a 0.5 percentage point increase to 2% for the year. In Asia, another dose of government stimulus has pushed China’s growth forecast up a tenth of a percentage point to 6.6% and Japan’s outlook by 0.4 percentage point to 1.2%. [WSJ]