Just before midnight on April 23, 2020, President Donald Trump’s “Proclamation Suspending Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risk to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak” went into effect. The proclamation’s purpose was to temporarily suspend the entry of new immigrants (green card holders) into the United States for 60 days, until June 23, 2020. Because U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad have been closed for routine visa processing since March 20, 2020, the proclamation did not immediately change the current situation. Unlike the consular closures, the April 23rd proclamation was not issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19; it was issued to restrict immigration because of high unemployment in the United States due to states’ stay-at-home orders.
The 60-day mark is far from the only important date in the proclamation. By the 30-day mark, May 22, 2020, the President will decide whether to take “other measures” regarding nonimmigrant visas to stimulate the economy and prioritize the hiring of U.S. workers. By the 50-day mark, a decision will be made about whether to continue the immigrant visa suspension beyond 60 days. It is the specter of these unknown “other measures” that has created concern on the part of employers and temporary visa holders themselves.
On May 7, 2020, four senators, Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and John Hawley (R-Mo.) fleshed out the possibilities in a letter to President Trump urging him to “suspend all new guest worker visas for sixty days, and to suspend certain categories of new guest worker visas for at least the next year, or until unemployment has returned to normal levels.” The categories the senators would like to see suspended for a year include H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers, H-1B visas for specialty occupation workers, and the Optional Practical Training Program (OPT) used by foreign students after graduation. Their stated purpose is to “limit the importation of unnecessary guest workers while American families and businesses get back on their feet.”
But many disagree with the senators’ assumption that limiting immigration will help the economy and U.S. workers. Indeed, there is some contrary economic theory, data, and statistics, including the following:
- Although H-1B visas have already been targeted by the Administration through significant restrictions and rising denial rates, the 85,000 that are issued yearly represent only 0.05% of the U.S. labor force.
- Immigrants (some of whom come first to the U.S. on H-1B visas) are among the most successful entrepreneurs in the U.S. Through their successes, they expand the economy and hire U.S. workers.
- New immigrants became new consumers who boost the economy and, thereby, create more jobs.
- A study by the University of Maryland regarding OPT concluded that cutting back OPT would actually result in a rise in unemployment.
- A 2019 study by the National Foundation for American Policy concluded that unemployment is lower in areas with higher rates of OPT.
Given the current climate, these issues will undoubtedly remain hotly contested as the May 22, 2020, 30-day mark approaches. Jackson Lewis attorneys will provide updates as they become available.