- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2017

President Trump will sign an executive order Tuesday to begin overhauling the country’s guest workers programs and federal procurement rules, as administration officials said he hopes to make strides on his push to buy and hire American.

Mr. Trump still won’t cancel the H-1B visa program he complained about during the president campaign, but will call on federal agencies to look at lesser steps designed to reduce abuses that could let companies hire foreigners even when qualified Americans are waiting.

The president will also order a government-wide review of contracting laws, and will reduce or eliminate the issuance of waivers that allow federal agencies to skirt existing buy-American laws.

“The culture immediately changes across the agencies,” a senior administration official said Monday, briefing reporters ahead of the president’s announcement Tuesday.

He’s expected to sign the executive order at an event at the headquarters of Snap-on tools in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

As a candidate, Mr. Trump made big promises about pressuring government and businesses to look to the U.S. first for both hiring and procurement.

Mr. Trump repeated the buy-American, hire-American mantra in a speech at his inauguration and in his first address to a joint session of Congress.

“My administration will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American,” he told the joint session of Congress last month.

He’s had some successes, including enticing companies to keep plants in the U.S. rather than ship production to other countries.

But he’s missed an important deadline to crack down on the H-1B visa program, which he blasted as a way for major U.S. companies to hire cheaper foreign workers — sometimes even forcing Americans to train their foreign replacements.

The latest round of H-1B visas was completed Monday, with the agency announcing it had completed the lottery to dole out permits for 2018. Nearly 200,000 applications were submitted for just 85,000 slots.

The number of applications actually decreased this year compared to the previous two go-arounds, when more than 230,000 applications were submitted each year.

Companies and colleges that rely on foreign workers said the U.S. is too restrictive, losing out on high-quality foreign talent in a global market.

But advocates for U.S. workers say Mr. Trump promised big changes, and said they’re disappointed he hasn’t followed through.

Administration officials describing the president’s new plans Monday said they are asking for more ideas, but some of those they’re already looking at are boosting the fee for hiring a guest worker, instituting more vigorous enforcement to combat fraud and adjusting the lottery to give preference to foreign workers with master’s degrees.

Currently just 20,000 of the 85,000 H-1B visas are set aside for those with master’s degrees.

Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, worked in the U.S. on an H-1B visa in the 1990s as a fashion model. She did not complete her college degree, much less a master’s degree, but eventually earned her green card granting permanent legal status as a model of “extraordinary ability.”

The senior administration official who briefed reporters said Mr. Trump’s executive order was just the beginning of his efforts.

“This is a transitional step to get to a more merit-based immigration system,” the official said. “When you are telling the agencies to suggest reforms, you are creating an entirely new structure.”

Meanwhile the buy-American provisions will include an assessment of the judicious use of waivers and executions that allow use of foreign-made materials, trade deals that exempt foreign countries from buy-American laws and measures that specifically deal with foriegn-made steel.

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