Reform of US visa programme may affect applications made by Irish graduates

Moves by Trump’s transition team indicate a reform of the H1-B visa to restrict applicants to only the most highly-qualified


The status of the H1-B visa, a temporary work permit for skilled foreign professionals used by many Irish graduates, is being scrutinised by President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, indicating a potential revamp of the programme once the Trump administration assumes power in the White House. Potential reforms were discussed with heads of large tech companies, who are the most frequent users of the programme due to the lack of a skilled domestic workforce, at a meeting at Trump Tower last month.

The programme, which currently operates under a lottery system, was subjected to criticism recently due to claims that it suits large firms who can flood the system with applicants to increase their chances. In addition, the top 10 recipients of the H1-B visa were outsourcing firms, fuelling speculation that companies use the visas for low-level technology jobs rather than to recruit skilled experts. A potential replacement model would favour applications for high-salary positions, effectively raising the threshold of qualifications necessary to obtain a H1-B visa.

Jeff Sessions, Mr. Trump’s selection for attorney general has been a vocal critic of abuses of the programme. Stephen Miller, a senior policy advisor to Mr. Trump, has also proposed scrapping the lottery component indicating that a policy change is likely.

However, Mr. Trump has offered a mixed message during the campaign trail. While he criticised the programme for taking jobs away from American workers, he acknowledged at a Republican debate last March that he was “softening” his position because he recognised that the American economy needs “talented people in the country”. Reports from the meeting held at Trump Towers indicated that Mr. Trump was in search of a middle-ground. While he recognised the importance of the programme, he wanted the most highly-skilled graduates to receive the visa.

Unless legislation to provide for the needs of tech companies is introduced, it is likely that any potential reform would limit the chances of Irish graduates to the most highly-skilled applicants.

Immigration reform which would affect Irish students and graduates was mentioned by Mr. Trump throughout his campaign; in August 2015, he announced that he would terminate the J1 programme, used by Irish students, and replace it with a programme to provide seasonal jobs for youths in the inner-city.