Trump suspends visa program bringing workers to US

Ban affects seasonal employees on Cape, high-tech staff

PRESIDENT TRUMP on Monday extended existing restrictions on the issuance of new green cards and temporarily suspended new work visas that will bar hundreds of thousands of immigrants from coming to the United States to work through the end of December.

The Trump administration said that the move will keep as many as 525,000 foreign workers out of the country in hopes that the positions will instead be filled by Americans who recently lost employment because of COVID-19 shutdowns.

“Under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of the American worker,” Trump wrote in the order.

The visas covered by the order include the H-1B, which is used by technology company employees and those with specialized knowledge; the H-2B, which is used by nonagricultural seasonal workers; L visas, which apply to managers and high-level employees for companies; and J visas, which typically go to young immigrants who work in a summer exchange program for three months before returning to their home countries. The ban also applies to all family members of people overseas applying for any of the visas.

Massachusetts business owners and multinational corporations will be prohibited from transferring executives and employees working abroad to their US offices for the time being.

Eva Millona, president of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said Trump’s order is unnecessary. “Extensive data show that these workers do not compete with US labor; they complement it,” she said. “If due to COVID-19, employers find that they have plenty of local candidates for the jobs they need to fill, they will not go to the trouble and expense of hiring from abroad instead.”

In order for employers to get a foreign worker through the H-2B program, they have to first post the job in the US and give opportunity for the jobs to be taken by an US resident. To bring a foreign worker to the US, a company has to pay fees to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency and pay the worker’s airfare.

Michael Holdgate is the owner of Holdgate’s Laundry in Nantucket and is glad that his four foreign employees were approved last Saturday to arrive this week through the H-2B program.

“It’s hard to get employees on Nantucket,” he said, adding that finding high school and college students to fill the seasonal gaps is “impossible.”  He said many US workers are making more on unemployment than they make working.

At Peak Season Workforce, which helps employers on Cape Cod and across the East Coast apply for H2-B visas, company president Joe Bishop was “angry, then disappointed” to find out that the program is shut down for the rest of the year. He thinks Trump’s reasoning for ending the program doesn’t add up.

“I know with COVID there’s the idea of so many people looking for work, but these jobs aren’t traditionally filled by the people being laid off,” he said. “These aren’t going to be filled by people who had full time jobs with benefits.”

He thinks the reverberations of Trump’s order will be felt for some time as businesses struggle to find a workforce to replace immigrants and in the meantime have to cut back on their output. Peak Season Workforce typically places about 200 to 250 immigrants with Cape Cod employers per year, with many being housekeepers, servers, and au pairs.

“This is going to be disastrous for small companies. The Cape is built on the little guys. Even with bigger hotel chains, we have CEOs changing beds because they don’t have the staff,” Bishop said.

At Chin & Curtis, a business immigration firm in Boston, co-partner Phil Curtis said that the ban will impact many companies looking for skilled workers, He said one of his clients in India was denied a H-1B visa to work with a technology company in the US last year, and appealed successfully after a year of paperwork. “Now he’s stuck in India because Trump has just said no more H-1B visas will be issued,” Curtis said. The man, who does not want to be named out of concern over his application, works in IT and was supposed to work for a digital marketing company.

That sentiment is being echoed across the US as major tech companies like Amazon and Google, both of which have operations in Massachusetts, were quick to criticize the new limits. Amazon’s spokesperson told Business Insider the decision was “short-sighted.”

“Preventing high-skilled professionals from entering the country and contributing to America’s economic recovery puts American’s global competitiveness at risk. The value of high-skilled visa programs is clear, and we are grateful for the many Amazon employees from around the world that have come to the US to innovate new products and services for our customers,” the company said.

In Boston, Curtis called the administration’s statistic of saving 525,000 US jobs “nonsense” since there are only a certain amount of visas given out in many visa categories per year, and the numbers of those coming from overseas are small.

Curtis’s firm also represents businesses seeking to bring their international managers to the US on an L-visa. “It’s a well-utilized visa category that hasn’t been controversial until now,” he said. “If you can’t even transfer a manager for US Airways or BMW to the states, this is just making it harder to conduct business.”

Immigration attorney Mahsa Khanbabai said the ban on J visas will cut off the supply of young fo

Image of sample J-1 visa. (Photo by WikiMedia Commons)

reigners coming to the United States to work as au pairs and retail workers and also medical residencies.

“This will affect professionals who need an au pair in their home and need reliable childcare,” said Khanbabai. “It’s going to be a significant problem as Americans go back to work, and even working from home they need someone to watch their children.”

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

For international physicians, Khanbabai thinks Trump’s halt of J visas will deter future medical residents from overseas from coming to the US. “Why would physicians want to come to a country vilifying immigrants, when they could go to Australia and Canada and be showered with respect there?”

There is no breakdown of visas issued per state, but there are annual national records. According to 2019 State Department records, 188,123 H-1B visas were issued; 97,623 H-2B visas; 76,988 L visas; and 353,279 J visas. The data reflects visa applications at US embassies, and isn’t entirely reflective of how many people have that status. It also doesn’t differentiate between immigrants who applied for these visas who are already in the US, and those that are applying from overseas.