Businesses Brace for Possible Limits on Foreign Worker Visas

Businesses Brace for Possible Limits on Foreign Worker Visas

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Originally published by The New York Times

Maya Nasr was admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at 16 to study aerospace engineering. Currently a doctoral student there, she has been working on NASA’s next Mars rover, slated for launch this summer.

“By the time I finish my Ph.D., I will have spent 10 years in the U.S. researching what I am passionate about — getting people to Mars and human space exploration,” said Ms. Nasr, 23, who is Lebanese. “I would really like to stay here and work in this field.”

But recently she has been wracked with worry that the economic downturn that has left millions of Americans unemployed could threaten the visa program that would allow her to work as a foreigner in the United States once she graduates. “If I had to, I would consider Canada, the U.K. or Europe, but the U.S. is the place,” she said.

President Trump is expected to issue an executive order early this week to temporarily suspend various work visas that businesses rely on to hire foreigners, and also lay the groundwork for regulatory changes that would limit employment opportunities for foreign graduates of U.S. universities like Ms. Nasr.

The details and scope of the plan remain unclear, and it is still a work in progress. But the coming order has elicited an extraordinary response from a diverse coalition that includes universities and sectors spanning manufacturing, technology and consulting, which have been inundating the White House with letters and phone calls.

“What is scaring so many different groups here is that the order is going to impact everyone,” said Shev Dalal-Dheini, director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Mr. Trump on April 22 signed an executive order that suspended for 60 days the issuance of green cards for applicants outside the country, describing it as protection for unemployed Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic. But he stopped short of suspending visas and programs that allow U.S. employers to hire foreign workers.

Additional limitations on foreign skilled and seasonal workers are now in the works, said several people who have been communicating with the administration in an attempt to narrow the scope of the proposed new limitations. “What is being proposed is significant; we just don’t know how far it will go,” Ms. Dalal-Dheini said.

A key target is expected to be the H-1B visa, often issued to computer programmers and other skilled workers who critics say often displace Americans from such jobs. The order is also expected to temporarily halt other visas, including L-1s, for executives transferred within companies; H-2Bs, for seasonal workers who often work in landscaping and hospitality; and J-1s, issued to au pairs, students on work-study summer programs and others.

The administration is also likely to freeze or downsize a popular program, Optional Practical Training, that enables graduates of U.S. universities like Ms. Nasr to work in the country for up to three years if they are in science, technology or mathematics fields. Once in the program, the graduates are often sponsored for H-1Bs by their employers, who eventually may help them get green cards.

In the 2019 fiscal year, almost 139,000 new H-1B petitions were approved; 77,000 L-1 visas were issued, as well as 66,000 H-2Bs, visas for unskilled workers that Mr. Trump has regularly used to staff his resorts. There were about 200,000 new J-1 workers hired in 2018, according to the latest data available. About 225,000 graduates of U.S. universities were authorized to remain in the country to work.

The visa suspensions would likely extend into the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1, according to people familiar with the planning.

The proposed limits on foreign worker visas, if adopted, would be the latest restriction on immigration imposed by the Trump administration since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Immigration opponents argue that recipients of “nonimmigrant” visas compete with Americans for jobs, and that the present unemployment level justifies a clampdown.

“The president should insist that certain employers who have found it to be cheaper and more convenient to hire visa workers instead cast down their bucket here first, and get used to hiring U.S. workers again,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which lobbies to curb immigration. She said she was regularly consulted by White House aides on the matter.

The planned new restrictions could hamper the ability of companies to relocate personnel, affecting both American multinationals that transfer employees from abroad to the United States and foreign firms that send employees to do stints in U.S. cities.

The National Association of Manufacturers, which represents 14,000 small and large companies, sent a letter to the White House on June 1 warning that the planned immigration restrictions would stymie recovery efforts.

“We urge you to avoid immigration actions, either temporary or long term, that would cause uncertainty and impose great costs on our nation at this critical time,” said the letter, signed by the association’s president, Jay Timmons.

Two groups affiliated with the industrialist Charles Koch last week sent a letter to Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, and Jared Kushner, senior adviser to Mr. Trump, urging the administration to “refrain from imposing additional barriers” on visas.

The letter from Americans for Prosperity and the Libre Initiative said research had shown that immigrants were key to an economic rebound.

Thomas J. Donohue, chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also sent a letter to Mr. Trump last week calling on him to reconsider a visa ban.

The planned new restrictions could hamper the ability of companies to relocate personnel, affecting both American multinationals that transfer employees from abroad to the United States and foreign firms that send employees to do stints in U.S. cities.

The National Association of Manufacturers, which represents 14,000 small and large companies, sent a letter to the White House on June 1 warning that the planned immigration restrictions would stymie recovery efforts.

“We urge you to avoid immigration actions, either temporary or long term, that would cause uncertainty and impose great costs on our nation at this critical time,” said the letter, signed by the association’s president, Jay Timmons.

Two groups affiliated with the industrialist Charles Koch last week sent a letter to Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, and Jared Kushner, senior adviser to Mr. Trump, urging the administration to “refrain from imposing additional barriers” on visas.

The letter from Americans for Prosperity and the Libre Initiative said research had shown that immigrants were key to an economic rebound.

Thomas J. Donohue, chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also sent a letter to Mr. Trump last week calling on him to reconsider a visa ban.

“The message you are sending to international students here, and those considering coming here, is that we don’t value them,” said Benjamin Lane, vice chair of the external affairs board at M.I.T.’s graduate student council. International students represent 45 percent of M.I.T. graduate students.

Fan Chen, a data scientist from China, was hired by a U.S. multinational in Washington after earning a master’s degree at the University of Michigan.

For three consecutive years, the company, which initially had hired her under the O.P.T. program, sponsored her for an H-1B visa. However, she was not selected in the lottery that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services holds when the number of applications exceeds the allotted annual number of visas.

To keep employing Ms. Fan, the company transferred her last year to its branch in the United Kingdom, where she has continued to work with her U.S.-based team.

Ms. Chen and her manager were ecstatic when she was chosen for a visa in this year’s round. Then news began to circulate about the impending executive order, and it is no longer certain that she will be able to return to the United States in the fall.

The company’s lawyer and human resources personnel have been trying to reassure her. “They are trying to make it sound like this order isn’t likely to happen,” Ms. Chen said. “But they are also saying we might have to think of Plan B.”

Read more:https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/19/us/foreign-worker-visas-trump-coronavirus.html?searchResultPosition=2

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