Posted on June 23, 2020

Trump Announces New Visa Restrictions on Immigrant Workers but Exempts Agriculture, Food Service, Health

Molly O'Toole, Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2020

President Trump on Monday expanded a measure restricting visas to the United States to target many more temporary foreign workers, limiting immigrants from coming to the country for employment in industries including technology, academia, hotels and construction.

The order primarily affects H-1B visas, broadly set out for high-skilled workers; H-2B visas, for seasonal employees; L-1 visas, for corporate executives; and J-1 visas, for scholars and exchange programs, restricting new authorizations through Dec. 31. The new measure takes effect Wednesday.

Yet it also comes with broad exemptions, such as for many potential agricultural, healthcare and food industry workers. It does not change the status of immigrants already in the U.S.

In the order, Trump wrote that admitting workers to the country within the targeted visa categories “poses a risk of displacing and disadvantaging United States workers during the current recovery” and “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

Amid his administration’s struggle to respond to the coronavirus, Trump has cited high unemployment as the primary motivation for moves to restrict immigration, such as a bar on most new green card applicants that will also be extended.

Administration officials estimated the move would “protect” more than 500,000 jobs. {snip}


Based on fiscal 2019 data, the proposed measure — if kept in place for a year — could affect more than 550,000 potential immigrant workers, said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the nonpartisan American Immigration Council.

At the end of April, Trump signed a proclamation that restricted some new entrants from entering the country for 60 days who did not already have visas or other travel documents but included carve-outs for several categories of foreign workers and employers, as well as their spouses and children.

After coming under pressure from business interests, who argued work authorizations for immigrants in fields like agriculture and health were crucial to the coronavirus response, the president instead issued in April a dramatically scaled-back memorandum than what he initially described as an executive order to “temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!”


In 2019, Amazon led the nation in approved H-1B visas with 3,026, followed by Google with 2,678 and the outsourcing firm Tata with 1,733, and Facebook, IBM, Intel and Apple also rank among the top 10 H-1B employers.

Workers who receive H-1B visas are often paid less than their naturalized colleagues, and a 10,000-person survey conducted by the tech website OneZero in February found that many were left feeling trapped by an immigration program that linked their ability to work to sponsorship by their current employer.

That hasn’t curbed demand, from both individual applicants and sponsoring companies. {snip}

But the Trump administration has made the application process more difficult. Since 2018, the rate of H-1B applications accepted has dipped, from a consistent acceptance rate above 90% from 2015 to 2017 to below 85% in the last two years, and many applicants report that the process has become more difficult to navigate.

At the same time, amid the coronavirus crisis, the Trump administration has also touted making it easier for agricultural workers to come from Central America to the United States to work in an industry it deemed “essential” to the coronavirus responseThese workers would continue to be largely exempted from the latest restrictions.


Now, immigration to the United States has ground to a near-complete stop, primarily stemming from a March order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that border authorities have cited to rapidly expel tens of thousands of migrants without due process, including asylum seekers and unaccompanied children. That order has been extended indefinitely, and Canada and Mexico have agreed to continue border closures barring nonessential travel through July.


If immigration to the U.S. had not essentially been paused, the restrictions on green card applications would affect a large number of people — more than 350,000 if the ban remained in place for a full year, according to some analysts. More than 1 million foreign nationals obtained lawful permanent residence last fiscal year, about 45% of whom entered as new arrivals, according to the Homeland Security Department’s statistics.