U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday issued an executive order prohibiting the granting of visas for certain categories of foreign workers until 2021 to boost employment among Americans, under the banner of “America First”.

“As part of our efforts to recover ‘America First’, the president has decided to suspend certain types of visas until the end of this year,” a senior U.S. administration official said in a call with reporters organized by the White House.

This decision is intended to protect American workers after the loss of jobs in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and, according to the government, will prevent foreign employees from “taking up” some 525,000 jobs.

THE TECHNOLOGY SECTOR, AFFECTED

The freeze will apply to visas used by companies to recruit talent abroad, especially in the technology sector, but also in others such as the hotel industry.
In particular, it put a stop to the issuance of new visas of the types H-1B, H-2B, H-4, L-1 and J-1 and residence cards (“green cards”) until at least the next 31st December.

Among the visas affected are the H-1B, which is designed for certain qualified workers, such as those employed in the technology industry; the H-4, which are for the partners of these employees; as well as L-1 visas, which are intended for managers working for large corporations.

H-2B employment permits, which are for workers in the hotel and construction sectors, and J-1s, which are for researchers and research professors and other work exchange programs, such as employment scholarships, will also be halted until January.

The order excludes farm workers and some health care employees and includes a special exemption for the approximately 20,000 child care providers who come to the United States as “au pairs” or nannies.

DEFENDING THE EMPLOYMENT OF AMERICANS

The government justified this decision as aiming to “maximize opportunities for American workers to find employment”, at a time when the unemployment rate in the country stands at 13.3%.

In this sense, it argued that there are companies in the United States, such as the entertainment giant Disney or the telephone company AT&T, among others, that use a mechanism of subcontracting foreign employees that limit the possibilities of work for those born in the country.

In principle, this regulation will not affect foreign workers already in the United States.

However, it will impact hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals, since in fiscal year 2019, the U.S. granted the H-1B visa to some 130,000 workers; the L-1a 12,000; and the H-2B to over 98,000 employees.

COMPLETION OF THEIR IMMIGRATION PLANS

Critics of such restrictions have argued that Trump is using the context of the pandemic to pursue certain immigration reform policies he has had in mind since his arrival at the White House.

In fact, the Administration’s measure announced today is in part an extension of Trump’s April decision to suspend the issuance of permanent residence permits to immigrants, known as “green cards,” as a result of the unprecedented job destruction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, it is also the culmination of a Trump executive maneuver in 2018, when it tightened rules for companies to hire highly skilled workers who were in the country on H-1B visas.

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