At Thursday’s GOP debate, Donald Trump said that he was changing his hard-line view of the H-1B visa program to recruit highly skilled workers, telling co-moderator Megyn Kelly that he was “softening the position, because we have to have talented people in this country.”
But just hours later, his campaign released a statement in which he bashed the H-1B program for allowing “temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay.”
A shift, then a shift back? Trump’s statement highlighted the need to crack down on H-1B abuse, citing in particular a story that is familiar to voters in Florida, which holds its primary on March 15: That is the case of 250 Walt Disney World IT workers who were laid off last year, their jobs transferred to foreign workers who obtained visas and were recruited by contractors.
GOP candidates have, from time to time, cited the case of the Disney workers in calling for cutting back the number of H-1B visas, or adding further restrictions, but Trump in particular has focused on the layoffs.
In his statement, Trump said that he would be “ending outrageous practices such as those that occurred at Disney in Florida when Americans were forced to train their foreign replacements.”
Trump’s campaign highlighted the Disney workers at a recent campaign event.
On Sunday, two of the former IT workers, Dena Moore and Leo Perrero, appeared at a Trump rally in Alabama, according to Computerworld. They each have filed class action lawsuits against Disney, with Moore also naming as a defendant Cognizant Technology Solutions and Perrero naming HCL Inc.
Last week, Perrero testified before a Senate subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who has endorsed Trump, and recounted to lawmakers being told that he and about two dozen other others would be laid off, their jobs transferred to foreign workers, and that they would be required to train them as a condition of their severance.
“We all felt extremely humiliated when the foreign workers sat next to us, and watched everything that we did,” he said.
Tech companies have sought to expand the visa program, as part of calls for immigration reform. Even though Trump at the debate appeared to side with Silicon Valley in their call for more highly skilled workers, he has also bashed rival Marco Rubio, who has sponsored legislation to increased the cap on such visas, which are designed to enable companies to temporarily employ workers in specialty occupations.
A spokeswoman for Disney did not immediately return a request for comment.
The company has said that many of the workers got new jobs at the company, while others retired. Disney employs about 74,000 workers in the central Florida area.
Still, Trump’s campaign seems determined to use the issue of the Disney workers to give the issue visibility in Florida. If Rubio wins there, it would raise some doubts about Trump’s ability to amass a majority of delegates before the GOP convention in July. If Trump wins the Sunshine State, it may go a long way toward eliminating a competitor he has taken to dismiss as “little Marco.”