Work-visa halt until fall floated


The White House has developed proposals limiting employment-based immigration visas as the nation recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, though President Donald Trump has yet to decide whether to push forward changes that may effectively halt the entry of foreign workers until fall.

One possibility under consideration would restrict people from entering the U.S. on several different visa categories, including the H1-B program for high-skilled workers, for as long as 180 days, according to two people familiar with the proposal. They asked not to be identified discussing internal government deliberations.

Workers who were granted those visas but remain outside the country may not be able to enter until the order expires. The move would affect hundreds of companies and thousands of people; the H1-B is awarded to about 85,000 workers annually.

“The administration is currently evaluating a wide range of options, formulated by career experts, to protect American workers and job seekers, especially disadvantaged and under-served citizens — but no decisions of any kind have been made,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

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The possible H-1B restrictions were reported Thursday by the Wall Street Journal. The president is also considering new regulations that would raise standards for migrants hoping to obtain asylum and a rule that would allow immigration judges to deny those requests without giving migrants the chance to testify in court, The New York Times reported Friday.

An executive order Trump signed in April that halted the issuance of new green cards for would-be U.S. permanent residents called for the government to evaluate whether the restrictions should be extended or modified within 50 days — or June 12. Trump at the time suggested he could extend the immigration ban to help protect jobs for American citizens as the country recovered from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We want to take care of our citizens first,” Trump said. “We have to. And it’s a very powerful order. It’s for 60 days. At the end of 60 days, or maybe even during 60 days, I’ll extend it or not.”

Restrictions could also impact the J-1 visa for short-term workers including camp counselors and au pairs and the L-1 visa for workers transferring within their companies. Workers who already hold the visas but are outside the country could be barred from reentry, immigration lawyer Greg Siskind said Thursday.

“If you can get back, I’d cut your trip short and come back immediately,” Siskind tweeted.

The executive action could impact workers for as long as 180 days and also impact short-term seasonal workers, Atlanta-area immigration firm Kuck Baxter warned clients in a memo earlier this week. The firm said the suspension would likely include exceptions for health care and food supply workers.

Trump’s original executive order was drafted after he tweeted at the height of the coronavirus pandemic that he planned to “temporarily suspend immigration into the United States.”

His tweet caught businesses, farmers, and even some White House aides by surprise, and came before lawyers on the president’s team had finished drafting the executive order. Critics of the administration said that the move would make it harder for families impacted by the coronavirus to reunite and disrupt attempts by businesses to employ critical workers.

But some Republican senators — including Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Chuck Grassley of Iowa — have urged Trump to suspend guest-worker visas for at least a year.

“Given the extreme lack of available jobs for American job-seekers as portions of our economy begin to reopen, it defies common sense to admit additional foreign guest workers to compete for such limited employment,” the Republicans wrote in a letter to the White House last month.

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