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Trump Directs Review of H-1B Visas

April 19, 2017

President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that directs federal agencies to recommend changes to the H-1B skilled-worker visa program “to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”

The H-1B visa program is important to colleges both because many international students look to it as a route to permanent residency in the U.S. and because universities use H-1Bs to hire postdoctoral researchers and others from abroad. Universities and other nonprofit or governmental research organizations are exempt from the cap on new H-1B visas, which are otherwise limited to 85,000 per year.

“Right now, H-1B visas are awarded in a totally random lottery -- and that's wrong,” the president said during a speech in Wisconsin. “Instead, they should be given to the most skilled and highest-paid applicants, and they should never, ever be used to replace Americans.” In a background briefing, a senior Trump administration official suggested that one possible change to the program would be to adjust the lottery to give an advantage to master’s graduates. Currently, 20,000 of the 85,000 total visas are earmarked for holders of graduate degrees from American colleges.

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