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Decoding Trump's Immigration Plan and What It Means for Employers


Since the very first day of his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump has made immigration a key part of his platform. Though early in the campaign he spoke of controlling immigration from Mexico, in recent months, Trump focused on Muslims, calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

Trump’s position has fluctuated (he went from calling for a “complete and total shutdown” to, at one point, calling the ban just “a suggestion”). In a foreign policy speech Monday, he gave a few more details yet on his immigration plan, which, in turn, raised questions about the potential impact on employers that rely on H classification visas, especially H1-B visas, to bring in skilled workers from overseas.

Below, Fortune attempts to calculate the impact.

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What Trump proposed

In his speech, Trump advocated for at least a temporary ban from the “most dangerous and volatile” regions that have “a history of exporting terrorism.” He added that if elected, he’d have the government draw up a list of regions “where adequate screening cannot take place” and stop processing visas from those areas until it is “deemed safe.”

Trump didn’t name the countries or regions, but the speech was largely focused on radical Islam and the threat that Islamic terrorism represents. He also called for a new screening test–“extreme, extreme vetting,” he said –which would keep out immigrants that don’t “embrace a tolerant” American society. But until then, he said, he would suspend immigration from countries rife with terrorists.

How businesses could be impacted

Given Trump’s frequent emphasis on controlling Muslim immigration (and the fact that he mentioned in this speech the danger of admitting refugees from Syria and other Middle East countries dealing with Islamic State terrorists), Fortune looked at the visas issued to citizens of Muslim-majority countries.

In 2015, there were 6,879 H classification visas given to citizens of these Muslim-majority nations, according to Department of State data. Though that is a relatively small percentage of the more than 477,000 H visas issued for the year, foreigners who come to the US on H visas are allowed to come to the US temporarily because they’re filling high-need jobs. Those coming on H-1B visas often are working specialized, STEM positions, which employers say they have special difficulty filling.

And what about India, and Europe?

Major terror attacks have happened in France, Germany, and Belgium, sometimes perpetuated by European citizens. Almost 4,000 H classification visas came from those three nations in 2015. Even more concerning for employers, nearly half of the H visas issued in 2015 went to Indian citizens. Though only 14% of the population is Muslim, the country has had its own struggles with Islamic extremism and terrorism.

If a Trump State Department decided that these countries presented too much of a screening challenge, the businesses that use H1B visas—including many tech companies—could be hit hard. More two-third–68%–of human resources professionals say they are having trouble filling jobs, especially in STEM fields, according to Rebecca Peters, the director for government affairs at the Council for Global Immigration, part of the Society of Human Resource Management.

Jeremy Robbins, the executive director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of politicians and business leaders dedicated to immigration reform, didn’t comment on Trump’s immigration plan but he stressed that maintaining immigration for highly-skilled workers is vital for the American economy. (The group, which describes itself as bipartisan, is led by Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire and former New York City mayor who has endorsed Hillary Clinton.)

“In a global world where people are competing for talent,” he said, “we’re the country that everyone wants to come to.” Adding more hurdles, Robbins said, could further incentivize companies to set up in countries like Canada and Chile, which make it easier to bring in skilled immigrants.

Trump’s position on the H-1B

Though he didn’t discuss H visas specifically in Monday’s speech, Trump has criticized employers’ use of the program before. During the primary campaign, he called for reform of the H-1B system, specifically noting reports alleging that Disney abused the system and brought in unskilled laborers on H-1B visas and made American employees train their replacements. “I remain totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse and ending outrageous practices such as those that occurred at Disney in Florida when Americans were forced to train their foreign replacements,” Trump said in a statement in March, according to Recode.

Would he pursue that policy if he was elected president? It’s not clear. As a businessman, Trump has reportedly taken advantage of H visas, which allowed him to bring in part time foreign workers to work at his resorts.

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