WASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he is planning changes to the H-1B program that grants temporarily visas to highly educated immigrants who work in specialty occupations such as technology or medicine.
"H1-B (sic) 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 on Twitter. "We want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S."
It was unclear what Trump meant by a "potential path to citizenship" for H-1B visa holders, who already are eligible to be sponsored by their employers for legal permanent residency, which would make them eligible to become U.S. citizens.
The White House did not immediately comment on whether Trump was considering changes beyond those proposed in new rules issued in December by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Trump, a Republican, has embraced changes to the immigration system to favor educated or highly skilled people.
Trump's tweet on the visa program came amid his battle with congressional Democrats over spending legislation to fund the federal government. Trump wants to includes US$5.6 billion for a wall along the border with Mexico, which he says will stem illegal immigration.
Democrats call the proposed wall expensive, ineffective and immoral. The dispute has led to a partial shutdown of the U.S. government that is now in its 21st day.
Trump, who has also sought to limit legal immigration, in April 2017 ordered a reform of the U.S. visa program to benefit educated and highly skilled workers.
Competition is tough for the temporary visas, which require a bachelor's degree. 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.
U.S. companies often use H-1B visas to hire graduate-level workers in several specialized fields, including information technology, medicine, engineering and mathematics.
When asked about Trump’s tweet, USCIS spokesman Michael Bars pointed to the administration’s proposed changes to the H-1B process, which are likely to become final later this year.
The proposal is designed to increase the number of H-1B beneficiaries by 16 percent, or 5,340 more workers, who hold advanced degrees from American universities. It would also entail a new electronic registration system meant to streamline the application process.