President Donald Trump on June 22 issued a proclamation suspending some employment-based visas, including H-1B visas for highly skilled workers, through the end of the year as the US struggles to weather the widening coronavirus pandemic. The Trump administration is touting the move as a way to protect American jobs amid the highest unemployment rate since 1939, but the decision has been panned by a broad range of companies who say they cannot access the labor they need in the US and who warn that the move could lead them to move operations abroad. The order is part of a broad effort by the Trump administration to severely limit immigration into the US during the pandemic. It suspends H-1B visas for highly skilled workers, most H-2B visas for non-agricultural guest workers, many J-1 visas for exchange visitors like teachers, interns, au pairs and camp counselors, and L-1 visas used by companies to transfer foreign workers to locations in the US, officials told reporters on June 22. Food supply chain workers are exempt, as are workers whom the government deems essential to the fight against coronavirus The order will also extend Trump’s April 2020 edict barring green cards for family members of US citizens.
An administration official estimated that the restrictions as a whole would prevent some 525,000 people from entering the US through the end of the year, though immigration analysts say they expect the number to be around half that figure. The ban will still be in place on October 1, the start of the government’s new fiscal year, when H-1B visas are typically issued. “American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy, including against millions of aliens who enter the United States to perform temporary work,” President Donald Trump’s proclamation says. “Under ordinary circumstances, properly administered temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy. But under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers.”
Immigration analysts and advocates have criticized the Trump administration for what they see as an effort to use the pandemic as cover to enact a number of restrictive immigration measures the administration has long wished to implement. Immigration hard-liners have pressured the administration for months to act to limit the number of foreign workers allowed into the US. The decision to temporarily suspend worker visas has even divided Congressional Republicans. In a May 27 letter addressed to President Trump, nine Republican senators, including close Trump ally Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, urged the president to reconsider limits on temporary foreign workers, saying that the move would hurt American businesses. “Guest workers are needed to boost American business, not take American jobs,” the letter read. But earlier in May, four Republican Senators wrote to President Donald Trump asking him to do the opposite and instead suspend temporary worker visas amid the pandemic.