President Trump uses executive orders the same way he uses Twitter: a way to vaguely state broad policy intentions without actually changing policy. His “Buy American, Hire American” executive order, which he unveiled on Tuesday at a tool manufacturing plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, does effectively nothing except send a signal to his nationalist base, which is precisely what it is designed to do.
What the “hire American” part is supposed to do is order federal agencies to review and propose reforms to the H-1B visa system, under which 85,000 high-skill foreign workers annually can obtain three-year permits to work for companies in the US. No one knows what these potential reforms might look like, but they could involve anything from lowering the yearly cap to raising the targeted salary to adjusting the process for awarding the visas. Or nothing at all. Or as Trump explained, “It’s America first, you better believe it. It’s time. It’s time, right?”
It’s easy go after the H-1B program, which in its current form no one likes but no one can agree on how to improve. Business groups say it’s too restrictive. Labor groups say it displaces US workers and lowers their wages. It’s a lot like Obamacare, in that it makes a ripe target for Trump’s harangues before he passes on to someone else the impossible task of crafting something everyone will like.