WASHINGTON—President Trump signed a proclamation Monday that extends and expands his April 22 labor immigration proclamation to address America’s continued COVID-19 economic and health response and recovery. The new restrictions will suspend certain non-immigrant visas issued to those temporarily seeking to work in the United States in specialty occupations (H-1B); seasonal, non-agricultural work (H-2B); intracompany transferees (L visas); certain student/exchange program (J visas); and their spouses through December 31, 2020.
Employment levels have shifted downward since March 2020, and job losses reached their highest point in April, with an unemployment rate of 14.7%. In response to these challenges and public health concerns, the Trump Administration has taken several measures to slow the spread of the virus, improve supply chains, and encourage employment for laid-off and furloughed Americans.
“We commend the Trump Administration for its efforts to proactively help Americans get back to work after the sudden and historic unemployment resulting from the pandemic and stay-at-home orders,” said Lora Ries, senior research fellow for homeland security at The Heritage Foundation. The proclamation will specifically target individuals (not yet in the U.S.) seeking the above-mentioned non-immigrant visas, but it includes exemptions for workers in several fields, such as the medical profession, the food industry, certain researchers, and other industries deemed critical by the Secretaries of DHS, Labor, and State.
“The United States’ current visa system is complicated, unable to respond to labor market shocks, and arguably contributes to the illegal immigration problem faced by this nation,” said Elizabeth Hanke, research fellow for labor economics at The Heritage Foundation. “Visas granted per category in the United States lack a fundamental connection to the needs of the labor market. The proclamation calls for regulations to narrow H-1B visas to those with the highest salaries, partially mitigating this problem by relying on a true signal from the labor market.”
“The U.S. needs a thoughtful discussion and debate about legal immigration reform with solutions that reduce the arbitrary nature of the existing visa system,” said Hanke. “Ultimately, Congress needs to play its part and work with the Trump Administration to move the U.S. further towards a merit-based system, one that would welcome future Americans based on merit, skills, and the demands of an ever-evolving and dynamic work force, within a framework of broader reforms to ensure policy respects the rule of law and consent of the governed, protects public safety, and preserves patriotic assimilation.”