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Trump's immigration 'pause' leaves open H-1B action

President Trump's immigration 'pause' is likely to face court action and ongoing criticism from people on both sides of the issue. The impact of his order is expected to be minor.

President Trump's 60-day immigration "pause" is unlikely to have much impact on employers sponsoring workers for green cards. The coronavirus has already disrupted the use of foreign workers. The U.S. suspended overseas visa services in March, international travel has been restricted in many countries and the economy is reducing demand for workers. 

Trump, who described his action as an effort to "first take care of the American worker," signed the executive order late Wednesday. It only applies to people outside of the United States seeking permanent residency. Many people seeking green cards are already in the U.S. and working on H-1B visas

The order states that in 30 days, the U.S. Department of Labor and other agencies are to complete a review of nonimmigrant visa programs and return with recommendations prioritizing the hiring of U.S. workers. The visa programs include the H-1B visa, the L-1 visa, which is used for intra-company transfers, and the F-1 or student visa.

The immigration pause is a short period of time for people who have been waiting years for a green card, said Peter Bendor-Samuel, founder and CEO of Everest Group, an outsourcing research firm and consultancy in Dallas.

"If you're from India, you may have a 10-year wait, so what's another two months?" said Bendor-Samuel, who believes Trump is playing to his gallery of supporters.  

Bendor-Samuel suspects that Trump's immigration actions "will be done for maximum political effect while allowing as much flexibility to businesses as possible," he said.

Program covers 140,000 visas

The U.S. issues about 140,000 employment immigrant visas to workers and their families; the program puts people on the path to U.S. citizenship. But applicants are subject to per-country caps that limit the number of visas that workers can receive. Because of high demand in India, in particular, wait times are measured in years. In contrast, the H-1B visa is for temporary workers, although employees can offer to sponsor their visa workers for a green card.

In response to Trump's executive order, New York State is promising legal action.  

"This proclamation is antithetical to everything we believe as Americans and only uses immigrants as scapegoats," Attorney Gen. Letitia James said in a statement released late Wednesday. "We will not allow President Trump to usurp Congress's authority by presidential proclamation. We stand ready to take legal action."

This White House action was announced in a tweet by Trump on Monday. It appeared to suggest much broader action than what happened. It has, nonetheless, angered people representing all sides of the issue.

"This doesn't make our country safer or more prosperous, but rather will separate families and discourage essential workers from bringing their skills to the United States, inflicting more harm on our communities," said Sharvari Dalal-Dheini, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Sarah Blackwell, a Florida attorney who represented IT workers whose jobs were moved overseas and a critic of the H-1B visa program, has been unhappy with Trump's actions on immigration. 

"It only makes common sense to halt any new immigrant and non-immigrant workers from coming to the U.S. until we get America back to work," Blackwell said. 

A demand shock

The H-1B visa is heavily used by the tech industry, but it remains to be seen whether this industry will continue to have high demand.

IT employment still showed signs of growth in March, growing 6,700 jobs, according to an analysis by Janco Associates Inc., an IT market research and consulting firm based in Park City, Utah. But, while many of the recent layoffs in the U.S. are affecting service-type jobs in hospitality and travel, analysts and consultants are expecting projects to be delayed or even cancelled.

It has almost no effect.
Peter Bendor-SamuelFounder and CEO, Everest Group

The Trump administration's latest move on employment-based visas is not his first effort to try to restrict foreign workers. The administration is increasing H-1B denial rates for IT services firm. These actions have resulted in numerous lawsuits from these firms.

Indeed, Margo Chernysheva, an immigration attorney at Fennemore Craig, P.C. in Phoenix, sees broad impacts from this order. 

"The fact that employers won't now be able to offer permanent residency benefits to some of these talented people may mean that these highly-skilled individuals choose not to come to the United States in the future," Chernysheva said.

Bendor-Samuel said that, for now, the impact of the 60-day order "is pretty 'de minimis' because we're suffering a demand shock right now."

If the order just stays at 60 days, "it has almost no effect," he said. 

Next Steps

Trump, Biden H-1B work visa positions take shape

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