WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump has suspended the entry into the US of certain foreign workers, a move that the White House said would help the coronavirus-battered economy but which business groups strongly oppose.
Mr Trump on Monday issued a presidential proclamation that temporarily blocks foreign workers entering on visas for skilled employees, and L visas for managers and specialised workers being transferred within a company.
He also blocked those entering the United States on H-2B seasonal worker visas, used by landscapers and other industries.
The visa suspension, which takes effect today until the end of the year, will open up 525,000 jobs for American workers, a senior administration official told reporters. The official, who did not explain how the administration arrived at that figure, said the move was geared at “getting Americans back to work as quickly as possible”.
But businesses including major tech companies and the US Chamber of Commerce said the visa suspension would stifle the country’s economic recovery after the damage done by the pandemic.
Critics of the measure say Mr Trump is using the pandemic to achieve his longstanding goal to limit immigration. The proclamation’s immediate effects are likely to be limited, as US consulates around the world remain closed for most routine visa processing.
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.
Immigration attorneys on Monday worked to determine what the order might mean for clients now out of the country.
The measure also exempts food supply chain workers and people whose entry is deemed to be in the national interest. The suspension will include work-authorised J visas for cultural exchange opportunities, including camp counsellors and au pairs, as well as visas for the spouses of H-1B workers.
Mr Trump is running for re-election on Nov 3 and has made his tough immigration stance a central pitch to voters, although the coronavirus, faltering economy and nationwide protests over police brutality have overshadowed that issue.
The president has faced pressure to restrict work visas from groups that seek lower levels of immigration, as well as some lawmakers in his Republican Party.
Number of jobs the visa suspensions will open up for American workers, according to the White House.
Approximate number of foreign workers the new ruling will block from entering the country for the rest of the year.
In a statement, BSA, the Software Alliance, whose members include Microsoft and Slack, urged the administration to “refrain from restricting employment of highly-skilled foreign professionals”, adding that “these restrictions will negatively impact the US economy” and decrease job opportunities for Americans.
Mr Doug Rand, co-founder of Boundless, a pro-migrant group that helps families navigate the US immigration system, said the fact that H-2A visas used to bring in foreign farm workers were exempt signals that “big agriculture interests are the only stakeholder with any sway over immigration policy in this administration”.
H-2B visas, which were included in the suspension, have been used by businesses owned by Mr Trump or bearing the Trump brand, including his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
Many business groups had been lobbying against a temporary visa ban even before it was announced.
Ms Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, estimated that the new ruling would block 219,000 foreign workers through the rest of the year. “This is introducing more chaos into an already chaotic situation for a lot of US companies.”
Mr Trump also renewed an April proclamation that blocks some foreigners from permanent residence in the US.