Updated: Jun 27, 2020
In the latest attempt to reduce immigration to the United States, the Trump Administration has signed an executive order implementing further restrictions on temporary employment-based visas, including H1-B visas.
With US unemployment figures rising significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the latest restrictions are part of the Trump administration’s ongoing attempt to force US companies to stop hiring large numbers of foreign workers.
In April 2020, the President signed Proclamation 10014 that targetted foreign nationals who were seeking to migrate legally to the United States. This proclamation, which was about to lapse, will now be extended to the end of this year. Some guest worker visas will now be included.
The visas affected by the temporary ban include H-1B visas for employees in specialized occupations, L-1 visas that cover company transfers, H-2B visas for non-agricultural workers, H-4 visas (for spouses), and J-1 visas, mostly granted to exchange visitors.
The new ruling, which came into effect on June 24th 2020, applies only to people currently outside of the United States. Permanent residents, the spouses and children of US citizens, people whose entry is deemed to be in the national interest, and people who work in the food supply industry are exempt.
The DHS (Department of Homeland Security) also confirmed a ruling that was first proposed in November 2019, preventing most asylum seekers from seeking a work permit. This places yet another obstacle in the way of refugees seeking asylum in the US.
The policy of limiting US immigration is largely driven by Stephen Miller, the President’s adviser on immigration and the man behind the administration’s increasingly hardline immigration program.
Washington has cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for implementing a raft of immigration policies that they had previously struggled to introduce. Key changes include the closure of the northern and southern borders to migrants, including most asylum seekers. Miller interpreted the president’s proclamation in April as the first stage in reducing the number of immigrants arriving in the US.
While President Trump has touted his handling of the economy, unemployment is rising in the United States. Opinions are starkly divided on the best way to respond to the situation.
Business groups have stated their views that immigration is essential for economic recovery and the American Immigration Lawyers Association questions the decision to cut off the supply of foreign workers employed in critical sectors.
The technology sector, including companies such as Google, Apple, Oracle, and Microsoft, argues that H1-B (non-immigrant) visas have been essential in keeping the economy afloat during the global pandemic. Foreign-born workers are helping to keep businesses running safely and securely and enabling US workers who may be self-isolating to work from home.
Tech executives also fear that the move will cause more US companies to relocate abroad to countries such as Canada, where immigration is still allowed. The concerns are not held by those in the technology sector; some Republican senators also fear that the new restrictions on foreign workers will hamper American business.
However, critics of the H-1B program say that it contains flaws that have been exploited. It is seen by some as driving down US wages. They say that rather bringing in workers with specialist skills that cannot be supplied by US workers, the program is an opportunity for companies to hire cheaper labor from abroad.
President Trump has requested the Department of Labor to investigate possible abuses relating to this visa category. Officials have said that the executive order for a temporary pause on H1-B and other employment-based visas is the President’s first step in reforming the system to a system based on merit.
It is estimated by the Migration Policy Insitute that the latest restrictions will block nearly 220,00 people from temporary work. Soon after the recent announcement, DHS implemented a regulation banning asylum seekers who have entered the United States illegally from obtaining authorization to work. The granting of permits to the few who are eligible will also be delayed.
The changes mean that asylum seekers will either be forced to work illegally or to rely on charities simply to survive. In a separate rule that has also been proposed, if asylum seekers do not report their income, this could also be used to reject their claim. This regulation, which is set to come into effect later in the summer, is likely to affect thousands of people claiming asylum in the US who rely on work permits to provide for themselves during the often lengthy period while their cases are going through the court system.