President Donald Trump wants to retool the fabled H-1B visas for skilled workers sought by Silicon Valley heavyweights, a White House official said Monday.
There are, however, limits to the scope of his action in the absence of a broader legislative plan.
These time-limited work permits meant for scientists, engineers and computer programmers are an important gateway for many Indians attracted by Silicon Valley.
Trump on Tuesday will sign a decree while in Kenosha, Wisconsin, ordering the Labor, Justice and Homeland Security departments to propose reforms so that the H-1B program goes back to its roots.
Its "original intent (was) awarding visas to the most skilled and highest paid applicants -- crucially, at such time as these reforms are eventually implemented, it will prevent the program from being used to displace American workers," a White House official said.
"For too long, rather than just allowing the best to come (...), the H-1B program has been applied in a bad way for US workers," the White House said. The executive order will aim to support stated Trump priorities of "buy American, hire American."
Immigration authorities already announced earlier in April measures to combat "fraud and abuse" in issuing the visas.
The steps announced Monday come when the United States opens the annual allocation of some 85,000 H-1B visas.
The US president cannot, by a simple decree, change the number of visas allocated.
But the White House hopes, by signing the decree will build momentum before a possible legislative reform.
"This is a transitional step to get towards a more skilled based and merit based version," a White House official told AFP. "There is a lot we can do administratively, and the rest will be done hopefully legislatively."
The United States offers 85,000 H-1B visas every year, most of which are snapped up by Indian outsourcers whose employees fill a skill gap in US engineering. Applications are vastly oversubscribed and are allocated via a lottery system.