FILIPINOS need not worry too much about the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order of US President Donald Trump issued with flourish last Tuesday.
The order, signed at the headquarters of a Missouri-based tool manufacturer, aims to protect certain US-made products and calls for a review of the H-1B visa program for skilled workers – two planks of Trump’s election campaign platform to “make America great again.”
Trump said the order would “aggressively promote and use American-made goods and ensure that American labor is hired to do the job.” But it did not amend any existing law governing trade and employment. While awaiting legislation, it may have only persuasive effects.
At best, the order may speed up the review of existing policies, procedures and priorities, especially of federal agencies – but hardly those of profit-motivated private business.
It would be something to see federal offices and facilities throwing out foreign-branded supplies and equipment, such as those omnipresent Chinese and Korean goods, and replacing them with items sporting a “Made in the USA” label.
On the employment side, however, Trump’s order might slow down the bringing in of skilled and technical personnel, such as those in information technology, and delay American workers’ being summarily replaced by cheap imported labor.
There have been pained stories of American IT workers, for instance, suddenly being told by their employers to pack up — but for them to first train their replacements (mostly from India) before they can get their severance benefits.
Some workers being kicked out complain that their foreigner replacements are not necessarily more skilled or experts, but are merely willing to accept lower wages. That could be a private business situation that may be outside the scope of an executive order.
The “hire American” part of Trump‘s order directs federal agencies to be more strict in enforcing H1-B visa laws and to propose reforms to help prevent fraud and abuse in the work place.
It is not clear if Trump’s order will cover instances when his own business companies, or those of his children, employ cheap seasonal foreign workers to cut costs.
• Phl exports too little, experts too few
THERE is not much that the Philippine government or Filipino exporters can do about Trump’s efforts to make good on his campaign promises — except to watch and hope for the clearing up fast of the cloudy business atmosphere.
According to the federal Census Bureau, the US imported in 2016 more goods ($10,047,000,000) from the Philippines than it exported ($8,263,200,000) to it, leaving an imbalance of $1,783,800,000. In 2015, the deficit, as always on the US side, was $2,325,000,000.
On a global basis, major Philippine exports include integrated circuits, computers, semiconductor devices, office machine parts and electrical transformers. The Philippines also exports copper strings, sponges, felt hats, sulfides, fulminates and vacuum flask glass inners.
But Philippine goods being sold in the US are not so substantial enough in variety and volume as to be affected by Trump’s executive order to federal agencies to give priority to US-made products. Filipino businessmen can just keep being watchful and hopeful.
Statistical figures published online by the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs show that Filipinos were the fourth largest Asian nationality group issued “H” (temporary employment) visas in 2016.
The top Asian recipients of “H” visas were India, 236,851 (83.87% of the region’s total of 282,385 “H” visas); mainland China, 26,458 (9.37%); South Korea, 3,654 (1.29%); Philippines, 3,469 (1.23%); Japan, 1,927 (.68%); Taiwan, 1,855 (.66%); Singapore, 1,361 (.48%); and Pakistan, 1,233 (.44%).
Compare this number of “H” temporary workers’ visas to the 35,274 immigrant visas issued to Filipinos who migrated to the US in 2016, mostly on petition of family members or relatives. The number showed a slight drop from the 36,650 who migrated in 2015.
The most common B1/B1 temporary visitor’s visas (business/tourism) issued to Filipinos last year numbered 99,967. They formed the bulk of the 220,301 total number of non-immigrant visas issued by the US consulate in Manila.
Overall, the US issued a grand total of 10,381,491 non-immigrant visas worldwide last year, fewer than the 10,891,745 it granted in 2015.
Mexico with which the US shares its southern border and has been having border issues had 189,156 “H” visas issued to it last year, beating Canada, north of the US border, which had only 243 “H” visas. The number of Mexican immigrants admitted to the US in 2016 was 89,234, compared to 35,274 Filipinos.
There is speculation that Trump’s order is not likely to affect the “H” visas already in the pipeline, but his directive may stall applications after a still unspecified cutoff date, if one is set
A revamp of immigration policies affects movements of temporary visitors and intending immigrants from all points of the compass and it will take more than an executive order to change smoothly the rules in midstream.
FOOTNOTES: President Trump is a fantastic public speaker, yet he still read his “Buy American, Hire American” speech in Missouri. President Rodrigo Duterte may want to take a hint, to never attempt a lengthy extemporaneous speech in English, and just read from a carefully prepared text… Now we know why Sen. Manny Pacquiao has been dutifully toeing the administration line on all issues – he is angling for a compromise of his P2.2-billion tax case.