So far, Trumps opening days in office have largely been defined by mass protest marches, odd rumblings about ‘alternative facts’, and bickering with the world’s media about how many people actually showed up to see him sworn in. Colorful, absolutely – but not particularly enlightening for those of us with a keener eye on his (as yet relatively opaque) domestic and global economic policies.
Since his intention to hit the campaign trail was first announced, there have been many and varied predictions floating around about what a Trump presidency might mean for the business world – particularly for the small businesses and new startups that could arguably bear the brunt of any sudden U-turns, most notably on issues of taxation, employee benefits and immigration.
A divided picture?
In terms of workplace taxes and benefits, Hilary Clinton’s campaign championed an allowance of up to 12 weeks, designed to provide some cover around childcare responsibilities, prolonged employee illness, or unavoidable familial nursing duties. Trump himself has even mooted the possibility of a six-week version for new mothers, although unsurprisingly this distinctly woolly announcement quickly came under fire for its unfortunately gender-specific focus.
Indeed, it’s fair to say that calls for mandated paid leave to be implemented for businesses across the US have continued steadily to gain traction in recent years. However, apparent broad partisan support for paid leave hasn’t really translated into action at any point thus far, and nothing we’ve seen at this very early stage suggests that’s about to change.
In lieu of any real Capitol Hill directives, New York will begin to fully implement its phased-in family leave plan from next year, while New Jersey, Rhode Island and California have already begun to use modest salary contributions to drive their own small-scale, insurance-based systems. With the likes of Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire and Massachusetts hot on their heels, unless Trump instigates and pushes through a more concrete national policy – which, again, seems relatively unlikely, at least early on – it could be that we start to see an increasing proliferation of state-level arrangements. The greatest impact of these would doubtless be felt by smaller, newer businesses in the scramble to adjust (and possibly relocate) accordingly.
It’s reasonable to assume that this vision of the future could result in a fairly chaotic picture emerging a few years down the line, perhaps somewhat akin to the overall state of play across Europe. There, various individial paid leave rulings have taken hold nation by nation over the past decade, which now differ wildly across neighboring borders and don’t seem particularly closely linked to a given country’s relative industrial power, overall economic resilience or GDP.
Trumps is widely expected to push for companies on US soil to prioritise domestic recruitment – that is, registered American citizens – and while this could very well impact on a huge range of businesses, it will be of particular note to smaller companies reliant on low overheads, or those who utilise higher turnover of a more casual (possibly part-time) workforce.
It’s also likely to pose specific problems for businesses that rely on importing highly specialised people for highly specialised roles, perhaps most notably the tech industry. Silicon Valley has always counted on being able to recruit the best and brightest from around the globe to continue its phenomenal (and very American) success story – the current CEOs of both Microsoft and Google were sourced from overseas, and indeed immigrants from a huge range of nations are currently reckoned to be at the helm of more than half of all US startups (per the National Foundation for American Policy).
Foreign workers as a whole are thought to make up over 16% of the American workforce. Admittedly, this estimates for both documented and non-documented employees, and Trump’s clear focus has always been very much on the latter. However, one relatively straightforward (and highly likely) measure he could introduce for greater control would be an overall restricting of the recently expanded H-1B/H-2B visa programme.
This might demand that businesses jump through some very complicated admin hoops to prove that a given position couldn’t be adequately filled from within the domestic labour market. Furthermore, in the event of such restrictions, it wouldn’t be at all unfeasible to see J-1 student visas tightened into the bargain – this could create significant additional problems for small businesses that rely on the low-cost recruitment of temporary, seasonal, part-time or shift workers sourced from a growing pool of entirely legal non-citizens.
Grounds for optimism?
Perhaps the one source for optimism regarding potential visa restrictions is Trump’s own historical reliance on the H-2B for recruiting temporary non-agricultural staff to his own businesses – particularly the Mar-a-Lago club and Trump Tower facilities – which has forced him to publicly acknowledge that he ‘understands the need for skilled workers and has utilised visa programmes [him]self’.