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Trump cracks down on H-1B visa programme

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration has unveiled steps to limit an immigration visa programme for skilled workers often used by the Silicon Valley to attract technology workers.

The moves included new measures, announced on Monday, to detect "fraud and abuse" in the H-1B visa programme.

There was also a warning by the Justice Department to companies not to discriminate against US workers.

Guidelines released last week will require a stricter definition of the skill levels for computer programmers to qualify for the temporary visa programme for jobs that cannot be filled by Americans.

These moves come as the US opens up its annual allotment for the H-1B visa programme and after President Donald Trump's campaign pledge to limit immigration that takes away jobs from Americans.

A total of 85,000 slots are quickly snapped up each year, notably by technology firms.

Employers may face prosecution if they discriminate against US workers in favour of H-1B visa holders, officials said.

"The Justice Department will not tolerate employers misusing the H-1B visa process to discriminate against US workers," said acting assistant attorney general Tom Wheeler.

"US workers should not be placed in a disfavoured status, and the department is wholeheartedly committed to investigating and vigorously prosecuting these claims."

Separately, US Citizenship and Immigration Services said it would take "multiple measures to further deter and detect H-1B visa fraud and abuse".

"The H-1B visa programme should help US companies recruit highly-skilled foreign nationals when there is a shortage of qualified workers in the country," the agency said.

"Yet, too many American workers who are as qualified, willing and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged."

The agency said it would take "a more targeted approach" and would investigate companies that "abuse the H-1B visa programme" to depress wages of US employees.

H-1B visas go to scientists, engineers, computer programmers or specialty occupations to fill needs, and there is heavy demand in the technology sector, where firms say there is a shortage of qualified workers.

But some critics argue many of the visas are snapped up by IT outsourcing firms, which end up sending jobs overseas, largely to India.

The visa has drawn particular attention since Mr Trump's election, with White House spokesman Sean Spicer suggesting that presidential and congressional action could be taken on H-1B visas as "part of a larger immigration reform effort". - AFP

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