US President Donald Trump Monday suspended the entry into the US of certain foreign workers through 2020. The executive order  applies to H-1B visas, H-2B visas, H-4 visas, L-1 visas and certain J-1 visas.
“Under ordinary circumstances, properly administered temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy,” the order states. “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.”
Rebecca Bernhard, a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney in both its immigration and labor and employment practices, described the suspended visas as follows:
- H-1B workers hold professional level positions that require specialized education, often working in technology, pharmaceuticals, engineering and other highly skilled professions.
- H-2B non-agricultural workers are temporary workers who come to the US to perform one-off, peak-time, or seasonal work in non-agricultural sectors. Common types of H-2B employment include grounds keeping and housekeeping, as well as meatpacking and other production-oriented activities.
- There are several different types of J-1 visas, which are broadly for people pursuing training of cultural experience of some kind in the US. The executive order stops the issuance of all J-1s except for those going to physicians, medical researchers, or (much more obscurely) secondary school students.
- L-1 visas are used by international companies to transfer managers and executives from their foreign branches or subsidiaries to the US.
The proclamation exempts those already in the US, as well as valid visa holders abroad, but they must have an official travel document that permits entry into the US.
Workers who were selected in this year’s H-1B lottery and are waiting for their H-1B status to take effect on Oct. 1 can also “breathe a sigh of relief,” according to Bernhard. “The vast majority of these people are not affected by the new executive order, since most people in this situation are already in the United States and will not need to travel abroad to obtain a visa,” she said.
Creating roadblocks. Mark Roberts, CEO of TechServe Alliance, told SIA that the trade association of the IT and engineering staffing and solutions industry knew this was coming. “It’s most unfortunate but not unexpected,” he said.
Roberts believes the order will not have an immediate impact, but is more of a “longer-term obstacle” in IT and engineering staffing firms meeting the requirement of clients because it applies to first-time entrants and not those already here on H-1B visas.
But it is going to overall chill the willingness of workers to come to the US and for staffing buyers to utilize the visas because of the uncertainty of their ability to remain here or return to the country.
“What’s really happened here is this administration has obviously been hostile to immigration in all forms – both documented and undocumented,” Roberts said. “And then with Covid-19, they saw it as an opportunity to push through some of their more aggressive proposals.”
The current administration has seized the Covid-19 crisis to curtail immigration based on the economic situation and rising unemployment rates, according to Roberts.
“The reality is, while certainly IT employment came down, IT has not come down anywhere near what the general workforce has come down,” he said. “High-demand skill sets are still in high demand.”
Roberts believes curtailing foreign talent is going to incentivize organizations to send more work offshore, which is counter-intuitive to the stated intent of the proclamation to protect American workers.
“This is going to be counterproductive and cause companies where they can, to do more and more work offshore, hurting America workers, IT staffing firms and clients as a result.”
He expects the executive order to immediately face legal challenges.