Stephen Miller, the architect of the President’s assault on immigration, has pushed for years to limit or eliminate the worker visas, arguing that they harm employment prospects for Americans. In recent months, he has argued that the economic distress caused by the virus has made it even more important to turn off the spigot of foreign entry into the United States.
Critics of the measure say Trump is using the pandemic to enact his longstanding goal to limit immigration into the United States. Trump owned or Trump branded businesses have used the H-2B program to hire seasonal guest workers.
The immediate effects of the proclamation will likely be limited, as US consulates around the world remain closed for most routine visa processing. A senior Department of Homeland Security official said the proclamation will not affect valid visa holders already in the United States.
Republican Trump is running for re-election on November 3 and has made his tough immigration stance a central pitch to voters, although the coronavirus, faltering economy and nationwide protests over police brutality have overshadowed that issue.
The visa suspension announced on Monday will open up 525,000 jobs for US workers, the senior official said on a call with reporters, saying it was geared at “getting Americans back to work as quickly as possible.” The official did not explain how the administration arrived at that figure.
The temporary visa suspension will include work-authorised J visas, which are available for cultural exchange opportunities in the United States, and visas for the spouses of H-1B workers.
BSA, The Software Alliance, whose members include Microsoft and Slack, strongly urged the administration to “refrain from restricting employment of highly-skilled foreign professionals”, adding that “these restrictions will negatively impact the US economy” and decrease job opportunities for Americans.
Doug Rand, co-founder of Boundless, a pro-migrant group that helps families navigate the US immigration system, said the fact that H2-A visas used to bring in foreign farmworkers were exempt signals that “big agriculture interests are the only stakeholder with any sway over immigration policy in this administration.”
Many other business groups were lobbying against a temporary visa ban before it was announced.
“The immigration restrictionists would like us all to believe that every single company bringing over foreign-born workers is nefarious and just wants to bring in people who are underpaid,” said Rand. “That is a false premise.”
Trump also will renew an April proclamation that temporarily blocks some foreigners from permanent residence in the United States, the senior administration official said on Monday. The official said that proclamation freed up roughly 50,000 jobs for Americans, but did not provide details.
An exemption for medical workers in Trump’s April ban on permanent residence will be narrowed to people working on coronavirus research and care, the official said.
In addition to the new visa suspension, the Trump administration will take several other moves to tighten rules around temporary work visas.
The administration plans to rework the H-1B visa program so that the 85,000 visas available in the program each year go to the highest-paid applicants, instead of the current lottery system.
In addition, the administration plans to issue rules that make it harder for companies to use the H-1B visa program to train foreign workers to perform the same job in another country, the official said.
Both moves would likely require regulatory changes.
Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia will use the department’s statutory authority to investigate abuse of the H-1B visa program, the senior official said.
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