Trump Signals Shift on Legal Immigration

WASHINGTON—President Trump has repeatedly expressed support for legal immigration this month, suggesting a change of course for his administration.

L. Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, recently told business leaders supportive of high-skilled immigration that the administration could consider new regulations for intracompany transfer visas known as L-1s, which broadly allow a U.S. employer to transfer an executive, manager or professional with specialized knowledge from an affiliated foreign office to a U.S. office.

Mr. Cissna said at a leaders’ retreat that he was sympathetic to their desire for an employment-based immigration system that was responsive to their stated needs, though he also emphasized that USCIS would prioritize protecting American workers and upholding the law.

A major problem, observers said, is that policy and rule changes have increased administrative backlogs at USCIS, the main agency that oversees legal immigration programs.

“I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally,” Mr. Trump said in his State of the Union address Tuesday, adding the unscripted phrase “in the largest numbers ever.” He repeated the sentiments Wednesday in an interview with regional reporters.

The previous week, Mr. Trump said in the White House cabinet room, “We need people. You see that with the jobs numbers.”

Mr. Trump made those remarks at an event focused on human trafficking at the southern border. But he opened by talking about employment numbers released that morning—the addition of 304,000 jobs in January—and indicated he believed some companies might now be facing a hiring squeeze that foreign workers could relieve.

Mr. Trump has made some supportive comments about demand for foreign labor from U.S. industries before. But his recent remarks stood in contrast to his longstanding backing of restrictions to favor Americans’ jobs, wages and security.

The White House said Friday that Mr. Trump’s focus was on high-skilled labor.

Complaints about logjams in immigration and a lack of flexibility over worker visas span a variety of industries, from agriculture to technology, manufacturing and services, though demand for high-skilled labor is most frequently associated with technology.

The administration recently changed the process for its H-1B visa lottery, which exists because demand for the visas far outstrips supply.

ByLouise Radnofsky for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

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