President-elect Donald Trump on Monday sent out the strongest signal yet that the H-1B visa program is going get real scrutiny once he takes office.
Trump listed five executive actions he plans to take on his first day in office. They include asking the Department of Labor to investigate "all abuses of the visa programs that undercut the American worker."
Trump did not get into details and didn't specifically mention the H-1B visa, but his intent is clear. During the campaign, he was critical of the H-1B visa program and invited displaced IT workers from Disney to speak at his rallies. He said the visa is being used to undercut workers.
"Companies are importing low-wage workers on H-1B visas to take jobs from young college-trained Americans," Trump said at a rally last month in Ohio directed at millennial-age voters. He called the outsourcing of jobs a tremendous threat.
Trump detailed his executive plan in a video posted on his Facebook page. He said he asked his transition team for executive actions he can take on day one "to restore our jobs and bring back our jobs -- it's about time."
The Labor Department has been asked before to investigate the visa program to no success. In 2015, 10 senators, including Trump's attorney general pick, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), asked the department to look at the layoffs of IT workers at Southern California Edison, but the department said it couldn't because it lacked a formal complaint.
Edison workers subsequently did file complaints with the department; it investigated "though half-heartedly," and found no wrongdoing, said Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Howard University, who has testified multiple times before Congress on the visa's use. The same thing happened with complaints from displaced IT workers at other firms, he said.
"I believe that the [Labor Department] had much more authority and discretion in its ability to investigate and penalize wrongdoing," Hira said. "Even more importantly, it had an obligation to point out how it was handcuffed by Congress in ensuring that the spirit of the law was upheld."
Hira said the agency "was negligent in its duty to ensure that the U.S. labor market is fair -- this is something that is in the mission statement of the organization."
The Trump administration can investigate the H-1B program, expose fraud, enforce existing rules, expose flaws and make recommendations, including new regulations for fixing it, said Hira.
Trump's other first-day actions include withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), removing "job-killing restrictions" on energy production and new limits on lobbying for former government officials.
Another day-one action involves cybersecurity. Trump said he will direct the Defense Department "to develop a comprehensive plan to protect America's vital infrastructure from cyberattacks and all other form of attacks."