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US immigration

Donald Trump promises changes to H1-B temporary visas for skilled workers – including potential citizenship

  • US president tweets that ‘changes are soon coming’ to the H-1B temporary worker scheme
  • The scheme’s intake is dominated by Indians and Chinese workers
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 January, 2019, 12:08am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 January, 2019, 9:37pm

US President Donald Trump said on Friday he is planning changes including a possible pathway to US citizenship to foreigners holding H-1B visas, which are issued temporarily to highly educated immigrants who work in speciality occupations such as technology or medicine.

“H1-B holders in the United States can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship,” Trump said in a Twitter post.

The Republican president has often said he wanted an immigration system that favoured educated or highly skilled people. The White House did not immediately comment on what kind of changes Trump was considering.

Trump and Democrats in the US Congress are at an impasse over spending legislation to fund the federal government.

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Trump has refused to sign on to a bill unless it includes US$5.6 billion to build a wall along the country’s southern border to prevent illegal immigration by migrants.

Democrats say the wall project, which carries a total price tag of more than US$20 billion, is expensive, ineffective and immoral. The dispute has led to a partial shutdown of the US government that is now in its 21st day.

More than 75 per cent of all H-1B visas went to Indian workers in 2017, followed by Chinese workers who made up 9 per cent of the intake.

While Trump typically depicts undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers attempting to enter the country through Mexico as criminals and terrorists, he frequently praises those applying for H-1B visas, which require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Competition is tough for the temporary visas. In 2018, the United States hit the limit on the number of H-1Bs it could issue, 65,000, by the first week of April, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

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Trump campaigned for president on a promise to crack down on immigrants, who he said took jobs away from US citizens. In April 2017, he signed an executive order for a review of the H-1B programme.

US companies often use H-1B visas to hire graduate-level workers in several specialised fields, including information technology, medicine, engineering and mathematics. The visas are heavily used in the tech sector.