NEW YORK — Nearly a week after Roll Call first reported changes in immigration policy based on a guidance posted at United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) Website but later removed, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order Monday, June 22 suspending temporary visas for foreign nationals until the end of the year.
The proclamation angered advocates who say the president is targeting immigration for domestic political reasons to placate his political base. It also drew fire from groups representing Silicon Valley tech firms and from several big companies. In an email sent to the Mercury News on Tuesday, Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said, ““Immigrants have not only fueled technological breakthroughs and created new businesses and jobs but have also enriched American life.” He added: ““Particularly now, we need that talent to help contribute to America’s economic recovery.”
The order to suspend temporary work visas comes days after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the Trump administration’s effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which protects those brought to the country illegally as children from deportation. In a surprising outcome for the White House, the court’s liberals joined with Chief Justice John Roberts in blocking the effort to end DACA. Trump said his administration will try to end the legal protections for “Dreamers.”
Trump’s latest order on Monday follows an earlier proclamation in April that suspended 60 days to foreign nationals who are seeking to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis but is now extended until Dec. 31 and expands it by imposing restrictions on work visas.
The order also directs the Secretaries of Labor, Homeland Security, and State to consider additional restrictions and policy changes for immigrants and non-immigrants already present in the U.S
Who is covered under the new executive order?
- H1-B (highly skilled workers in a “specialty occupation,” typically computer and tech-related)
- H2-B (seasonal shortage workers, many work in landscaping and hospitality)
- L-1 (intracompany transfers, where a manager or executive transfer from a foreign office to work temporarily in the US)
- J-1 (a cultural exchange visa, the ban applies here to those used for intern, trainee, teacher, camp counselor, au pair, or summer work travel programs)
- Family members of individuals on the above visas are also barred from entering.
The order is limited to individuals who are outside the U.S. and do not currently have a valid visa; it does not affect anyone who is in the U.S. now or already has a valid visa. It also includes several exemptions, including for children and siblings of U.S. citizens, workers involved in the food supply chain, and anyone who qualifies under a “national interest” definition.
Migration Policy Institute estimates the restrictions could collectively affect up to 325,000 individuals from entering the country by the end of the year, including approximately 167,000 temporary workers and their families, and about 158,000 prospective immigrants who have qualified for green cards but are barred under the previous order.
In 2019, according to data of the U.S. Department of State, retrieved by Wikipedia as of June 22, 2020, there were 188,100 new and initial H-1B visas issued. [“Worldwide NIV Workload by Visa Category FY 2019” (PDF) United States Department of State. Retrieved 22 June 2020.]
The president, in announcing his immigration executive order in April said, “it was to help “put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America re-opens.” On Monday, he echoed the same rationale saying that “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,” he said in the proclamation.
“Temporary workers are often accompanied by their spouses and children, many of whom also compete against American workers,” Trump continued. “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.”
According to the Washington Post, Stephen Miller, the chief architect of the president’s immigration agenda, “the strategy is part of a long-term vision and not seen only as a stopgap.” Miller was quoted” “By suspending the entry of a new immigrant from abroad, immigration is reduced further because the chains of follow-on migration are disrupted. “So, the benefit to American workers compounds with time.”
Scapegoating immigrants, political motivation
Kerri Talbot of the Immigration Hub, an immigrants’ rights advocacy group, accused Trump and his senior adviser Stephen Miller of “scapegoating immigrants and refugees to distract from the administration’s failures to put forward a meaningful response to the coronavirus pandemic.”
“Today’s order and the administration’s recent actions on asylum have nothing to do with combating the virus or providing any relief for struggling families,” Talbot said. “This proclamation is just more political fodder rooted in racism and white supremacy for Trump’s base.”
The Philippine Daily Mirror reached out to Filipino American practicing lawyers from different states to get their reaction to the latest executive order of the Trump administration. Here are their responses.
Serious blow to economic recovery
Fil-Am immigration lawyer from California, Johnson Lazaro, told the Philippine Daily Mirror that suspending the immigration of foreign employees during COVID-19 pandemic, which is killing thousands, places immense stress on our health care system. “We need a continuous flow of foreign nurses and doctors in our hospitals during these desperate times,” he said. “Immigration of foreign employees has been an integral part of the American economy in the last several decades.”
In addition, Lazaro said that immigrants from all sectors representing high-tech workers to finance, nurses to doctors to managers, to cooks and to researchers, among others, “helped kept American industries chugging along through good and tough times.”
“More than ever,” Lazaro said, “as our economy struggles to get back to health and as demand grows, we need a continuous supply of talents and skills to help us recover. Suspension of work visas is a serious blow to our recovery as a nation.”
Trump’s rationale a flawed premise
Gabriel dela Merced, Fil-Am lawyer from New York, dismissed Trump’s rationale that immigrants take jobs away from the local population. “This is a flawed premise. Economic studies have shown that immigrants do jobs that local workers shy away from, notably the back-breaking farm, meat-packing, and dairy tasks that have been feeding and sustaining Americans through this pandemic,” he told the Philippine Daily Mirror.
“Secondly,” dela Merced said, “the COVID-19 virus has largely preempted this Administration’s move to block foreign workers— a lot of companies have laid off H-1B and other workers as a result of the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic.”
He added that “the President’s executive order is a political move designed to cater to the nativist forces that the Administration panders to for electoral support. The immigrant community must join forces and use this government’s xenophobia as a rallying cry and catalyst to galvanize minorities in electing a more inclusive government this coming November.”
Unnecessary and counterproductive
Meanwhile, Gary Abasolo, Fil-Am lawyer from New Jersey said that President Trump’s executive order appears to be unnecessary, especially since the economy of all the states have recently been reopened in the last several weeks.
“Barring the issuance of work visas for valuable workers for the rest of the year may be counterproductive in trying to get the economy back into what it was before this COVID-19 pandemic. The suspension of issuing any green cards until the end of the year seems totally unnecessary and unjustified,” Abasolo said. “It accomplishes absolutely nothing except preventing people from obtaining the security of becoming permanent U.S. residents.”
Decision is an election year strategy
Manny Quintal, Fil-Am lawyer from New York, debunked the “no local workers are available” justification . “The jobs they fill up cannot be filled up by local workers. They do not “steal” jobs from locals. The H-1 and green card applications involving health workers will adversely affect our battle with the resurging pandemic, Quintal said. “L-1 provides employment not only to the alien transferee but also provides employment opportunity to local workers in addition to helping invigorate the economy.”
Quintal added that businesses pay taxes and other fees. He thinks that the suspension will ultimately do more harm than good to the American economy as well as to the reputation of the U.S. worldwide. “To me,” Quintal said, “the decision is an election year strategy.”