WASHINGTON, April 19 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order that asks the government to overhaul a visa program so that American workers will be hired first.
The executive order, dubbed "Buy American and Hire American," also aims to change rules for government purchases to give priority to American products.
"With this action, we are sending a powerful signal to the world: We're going to defend our workers, protect our jobs, and finally put America first," Trump told hundreds of factory workers at the headquarters of Snap-on Inc., a tool manufacturer, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, before signing the document.
"Together, we're going to do everything in our power to make sure more products are stamped with those wonderful words: Made in USA," he said.
The order accords with Trump's campaign promise to review visa programs so as to prioritize American workers. However, instead of taking direct actions for major changes and reforms, the document mainly launched a series of reviews and assessments focused on the controversial H-1B visa program and its lottery system.
The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. Many Silicon Valley companies employ large numbers of H-1B holders.
Trump derided the "totally random" lottery system that used to allot H-1B visas to employers, saying it allows companies to undercut American workers by bringing in lower-paid replacements, which drives down wages.
"They should never be used to replace Americans," the president said of the visas.
Defending the H1-B system, many U.S. technology firms said that they cannot find enough skilled American workers, arguing that scrapping the program could cause foreign students studying math and science in the United Sates to leave the country after finishing college or graduate school.
"Highly skilled immigrants create new American jobs, raise wages for native-born workers, and contribute enormously to growing our economy," said Todd Schulte, head of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg's advocacy group FWD.us.
"Congress should expand the number of H-1B visas offered while reforming the system to protect American workers," he was quoted by a The Hill news daily report as saying.
The new executive order also directed federal agencies to review current procurement requirements and step up the effort to limit government purchase to U.S.-made goods.
The order asked government bodies to review and minimize the use of waivers and exceptions to "Buy American" policies, and assess the degree to which waivers included in free trade deals have hurt American workers.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that the executive order "will make significant progress towards 'Buy American and Hire American,' the cornerstone of Trump's vision for a government that answers to the American workers who built this country."
In contrast, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump's latest move puts profits over people, arguing that the president seems to do what the CEOs want, not what the workers want.
Up to 85,000 H-1B visas are issued annually by the U.S. authorities, but demand has far outstripped supply in recent years, according to local media reports.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) already suspended premium processing for all H-1B visa petitions from April 3. The halt is expected to last up to six months.
Under the current system, a company who is sponsoring a potential employee or current employee's H-1B petition may fill out a form to expedite the processing of that petition. After payment of an additional 1,225 U.S. dollars in charge, USCIS responds typically in 15 calendar days, whereas standard H-1B petitions may take anywhere between three to six months to receive a judgement.