March 21, 2016 at 3:00 AM
For someone who has strong words about the current state of immigration, Donald Trump certainly has inconsistent ideas about what to do about it. Immigration has been the Republican front-runner's signature issue since he entered the race. He has stuck to his early idea of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but has shifted several times about the H-1B program, which grants temporary visas to non-immigrant workers. We took a look at his major public statements about his view on the H-1B program, and unpacked his flip-floppery.
"The influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans — including immigrants themselves and their children — to earn a middle class wage. … We need companies to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed. Petitions for workers should be mailed to the unemployment office not USCIS [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services]."
Trump released his immigration proposal early in his campaign, arguing that foreign workers are holding down American salaries and hurting employment rates. Trump proposed restricting the program, and criticized it for giving away coveted entry-level IT jobs to workers flown in cheaper from overseas.
He proposed increasing the prevailing wage for H-1B visas and adding a recruitment requirement to find American workers before hiring foreign ones. Raising the prevailing wage for H-1B workers will force companies to give entry-level jobs to U.S. workers instead of flying in cheaper labor, according to the proposal. This would help diversity in Silicon Valley, the proposal says, so that black, Hispanic and female workers will be hired from the existing pool.
Trump correctly noted there is no requirement for employers to recruit American workers first, and called for this to be required. These proposed changes are consistent with proposals from those who believe the H-1B program is being widely abused to the detriment of American workers.
Moderator Becky Quick: "You have been very critical of Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook who has wanted to increase the number of these H-1Bs."
Trump: "I was not at all critical of him. I was not at all. In fact, frankly, he's complaining about the fact that we're losing some of the most talented people. They go to Harvard. They go to Yale. They go to Princeton. They come from another country, and they're immediately sent out. I am all in favor of keeping these talented people here so they can go to work in Silicon Valley."
Quick: "Are you in favor of H-1Bs or are you opposed to them?"
Trump: "I'm in favor of people coming into this country legally. And you know what? They can have it any way you want. You can call it visas, you can call it work permits, you can call it anything you want. … As far as the visas are concerned, if we need people, it's fine. They have to come into this country legally. We have a country of borders. We have a country of laws. We have to obey the laws. It's fine if they come in, but they have to come in legally."
— exchange during the Republican debate on CNBC, Oct. 28, 2015
The first time Trump was asked about the H-1B program during a debate was in October. Trump took a more moderate stance than his policy proposal, even supporting the visas for bringing in talent from out of the country. He made no mention of his plan to wipe out abuse, though he said the program must follow the laws.
Further, Trump denied he was critical of Zuckerberg, of Facebook. Maybe he forgot, or was unaware of, the information in his policy proposal and its criticism of Silicon Valley executives using H-1B to hire foreign workers, saying his proposals "will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program."
Moderator Megyn Kelly: "Mr. Trump, your campaign website to this day argues that more visas for highly skilled workers would, quote, 'decimate' American workers. However, at the CNBC debate, you spoke enthusiastically in favor of these visas. So, which is it?"
Trump: "I'm changing. I'm changing. We need highly skilled people in this country, and if we can't do it, we'll get them in. But, and we do need in Silicon Valley, we absolutely have to have. So, we do need highly skilled, and one of the biggest problems we have is people go to the best colleges. They'll go to Harvard, they'll go to Stanford, they'll go to Wharton, as soon as they're finished they'll get shoved out. They want to stay in this country. They want to stay here desperately, they're not able to stay here. For that purpose, we absolutely have to be able to keep the brain power in this country."
— exchange during Republican debate on Fox News, March 3, 2016
Trump was confronted about the answer he gave during the CNBC debate in October, showing support for the H-1B program. He admitted that his stance is changing. When Kelly asked in a follow-up question whether he was abandoning the position on his website, Trump answered: "I'm changing it, and I'm softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country."
Trump's answer here was consistent with his answer during the CNBC debate. He said again that Silicon Valley needs highly skilled workers, and showed his support for the H-1B program. Further, he appeared to support employers sponsoring H-1B workers for green cards, saying, "We absolutely have to be able to keep the brain power in this country."
"Megyn Kelly asked about highly-skilled immigration. The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay. I remain totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse and ending outrageous practices such as those that occurred at Disney in Florida when Americans were forced to train their foreign replacements. I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions."
— Trump statement, March 3, 2016
Trump reversed his claim after the debate ended. In a statement released on his campaign website, he said he does not actually support H-1Bs. Instead, he said he would "end forever" using H-1B workers for cheaper labor, and stuck to his initial proposal of a recruitment requirement for employers.
Is Trump suggesting he misunderstood the question, or that Kelly had asked about a different program? It's clear she asked him about his stance on H-1B. And his answer is a repeat of his previous answers on H1B visas, suggesting he knew what he was talking about.
H-1B visas are non-immigrant temporary work visas, as Trump says. Companies use it to temporarily hire a foreign national for specialty occupations, and can sponsor them for permanent residency. So it is sometimes viewed as a method of bringing in skilled immigrants. H-1Bs also are used for fashion models working temporarily in the United States.
Some H-1B workers are highly skilled, which can be determined by their degree and by their wages. The majority of H-1B workers are in computer-related occupations. The median salary H-1B recipients in fiscal 2014 was $75,000, and 55 percent of them had degrees higher than a bachelor's. Nearly 72 percent of all workers who were granted continuing or initial employment with H-1B visas in fiscal 2014 were 25 to 34 years old.
"I know the H-1B. I know the H2B. Nobody knows it better than me. I'm a businessman. These are laws. These are regulations. These are rules. We're allowed to do it. … I will take advantage of it; they're the laws. But I'm the one that knows how to change it. Nobody else on this dais knows how to change it like I do, believe me."
"I know the H-1B very well. And it's something that I, frankly, use, and I shouldn't be allowed to use it. We shouldn't have it. Very, very bad for workers. And second of all, I think it's very important to say, well, I'm a businessman and I have to do what I have to do. When it's sitting there waiting for you, but it's very bad. It's very bad for business in terms of — and it's very bad for our workers and it's unfair for our workers. And we should end it."
— Trump, Republican debate on CNN, March 10, 2016
Perhaps these answers get us closer to the truth.
Trump acknowledged that as an employer, he took advantage of the H-1B program to hire foreign workers. It is a lawful option, he added, but he "shouldn't be allowed to use it." Trump argued that because he uses the program, he knows how unfair it is for American workers — and that he wants to end the program.
Update: On April 18, 2017, President Trump signed the "Buy American and Hire American" executive order to overhaul the H-1B program. He ordered the attorney general and secretaries of State, Labor and Homeland Security to "suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries."
In a speech in Kenosha, Wis., that day, Trump said H-1B visas should be awarded to "the most-skilled and highest-paid applicants, and they should never, ever be used to replace Americans." Although Trump said on March 3, 3016, that he would "end forever" the H-1B program, he reversed back to a more moderate view of the H-1B program. He wants to make changes to it rather than getting rid of it.
"Right now, widespread abuse in our immigration system is allowing American workers of all backgrounds to be replaced by workers brought in from other countries to fill the same job for sometimes less pay. This will stop," Trump said on April 18, 2017. "No one can compete with American workers when they're given a fair and level playing field, which has not happened for decades."
Trump is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He has used the H-1B program as an employer, and supports bringing talented, educated workers into the country. But he also wants to end the H-1B program because he believes it's full of abuse. He proposes restricting the program so that the industry that most relies on it —– the tech industry — can't use it to shut Americans out from jobs in Silicon Valley. Yet he says he supports Silicon Valley taking measures to retain talented and educated foreign workers.
We don't know exactly what to make of his stance — and it's unclear if Trump even knows himself. However, what we unequivocally can say is that Trump deserves a handful of Upside-Down Pinocchios for his flip-floppery.
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