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How the next president will change the H-1B visa

Patrick Thibodeau | March 4, 2016
What’s ahead for skilled visa workers in the presidential contest

Thanks to Disney's IT layoff, the Florida primary -- scheduled for March 15 -- might be the most telling on the H-1B visa issue.

The displaced Disney IT workers in Florida have given new visibility to the use of the H-1B visa. It has become the marquee case for visa reform.

Here's an early outlook on how the various presidential candidates may approach this issue if elected.

What if Trump wins the presidency?

President Donald Trump would change things.

India is on Trump's list of countries "ripping off" the U.S., along with China, Japan and Mexico. His immigration platform includes a series of H-1B reforms, including a hire-Americans-first provision.

Laid off Disney IT workers, who complained of training visa-holding replacements, spoke this week at a Trump rally. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a leading proponent of H-1B reforms, is endorsing him.

If the Republicans continue to hold both chambers of Congress, the prospects for a standalone H-1B bill improve.

Comprehensive immigration reform proponents oppose piecemeal approaches, blocking H-1B cap increases as well as reforms. President Barack Obama may veto a standalone reform bill, but President Trump would likely sign the bill.

But Trump, the billionaire businessman seeking the GOP nomination, is also a wild card.

Trump may want H-1B reforms bundled with the legislation he needs to build a border wall and fund mass deportations, setting the stage for a different kind of fight with Congress.

From a tech industry perspective, the most immediate danger posed by a President Trump may his use of the president's executive powers. He could attack the H-1B program with new enforcement approaches, as well curb the Optional Practical Training STEM extension that Obama now wants to expand.

What if Clinton wins the presidency?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton doesn't talk about the H-1B program. She doesn't mention it in her immigration platform or on the campaign trail. But she is not a total enigma.

Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, supports comprehensive immigration reform. She is unlikely to rile India on trade, but would accept some reforms to the H-1B program if they are part of a comprehensive immigration bill.

It remains to be seen whether Clinton -- possibly to offset Trump on this issue -- will be forced to directly talk in the campaign about the H-1B issue.

What if Bernie Sanders wins the presidency?

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent seeking the Democratic nomination, is a critic of the H-1B program and would be receptive to standalone reform legislation.

Sanders and Clinton haven't talked about the visa program in any of their debates. It's been a missed opportunity, and the people at fault are the national news reporters who pose the questions.


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