Trump Freezes Green Cards, Many Work Visas Until End Of Year

Jun 20, 2020
Originally published on June 23, 2020 6:24 am

Updated 5:45 p.m. ET

President Trump on Monday extended a freeze on green cards for new immigrants and signed an executive order to suspend new H-1B, L-1, J and other temporary work visas for skilled workers, managers and au pairs through the end of the year.

The goal of the move is to protect 525,000 jobs as part of the White House response to job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, said a senior administration official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity. NPR first reported the impending order on Saturday.

"Americans have been hurt through no fault of their own due to the coronavirus," the official said. "And the president is prioritizing getting them back into the labor supply and getting them to work and standing on their own two feet again."

The order targets H-1B visas, which are designed for certain skilled workers such as those employed in the tech industry, as well as L-1 visas, which are meant for executives who work for large corporations.

But other workers will also be affected, including foreign au pairs who provide child care. Professors and scholars are not to be included in the order, the official said. There will be a provision to request exemptions. The order is not expected to affect immigrants and visa holders already in the United States.

Business groups are expected to oppose the move. But groups that want less immigration cheered it.

"President Trump has repeatedly promised that he would put American workers first, and to his credit, he did just that," said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for lower levels of immigration. FAIR had called on Trump to suspend guest worker visas.

"For the most part, the president withstood intense pressure from powerful business interests that continue to demand more cheap foreign labor, even as they have laid off an unprecedented number of American workers over the past three months " Stein said.

In May, Trump issued a temporary halt on new green cards but stopped short of suspending guest worker programs amid concerns from the business community.

Plans for Monday's order raised significant concerns among business and industry groups. "The ban on H-1B visas, which are often used to fill very niche positions that are not easily found in the American workforce, will ultimately prove to be counterproductive and is an example of using a nuclear bomb to address a bar fight," said Leon Fresco, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration who now represents H-1B workers.

The order did not apply to H-2A agriculture workers, who Trump says are necessary to ensure grocery store shelves remain stocked with fruits and vegetables. Health care workers involved in treating coronavirus patients will also be exempt.

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President Trump's plans for a massive rally in Oklahoma last week were thwarted in part by young people who secured tickets but never intended on showing up. Today, President Trump looks for a do-over, this time in Arizona. And this time, he is talking to young people. He'll hold a couple of events for young voters and is expected to talk about the southern border wall and a new executive order that restricts legal immigration and many types of work visas.

NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez joins us now. Franco, good morning. Arizona is not a state President Trump expected to have to campaign so hard in, right?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: That's right. Hence likely why this is his third trip to the state this year - just a sign of the importance the campaign has put on Arizona. He's going to talk there about the border wall, primarily during a visit to Yuma, and keeping undocumented migrants out of the United States. He's also going to give a speech to an event in Phoenix with young supporters at a large crowd. This particularly is drawing some scrutiny after his rally on Saturday in Tulsa, given the concerns about spikes in coronavirus cases in Arizona. So that issue may actually draw more attention than the immigration message.

MARTIN: OK, let's talk about immigration, in particular the executive order that the president signed yesterday, I believe it was. Who's affected?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, the order freezes new immigration until the end of the year, extending a measure the White House put in place in April. It also restricts new visas for temporary workers in a variety of sectors, for tech companies, management positions and even for foreign students who provide child care as au pairs. The idea behind it is to respond to job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic and preserve jobs for Americans. It applies to new immigrants and visa applications, not people who are already in the United States.

MARTIN: OK. So how much difference will it make in terms of jobs?

ORDOÑEZ: The White House says that it will mean 525,000 jobs are protected for Americans, and it's being welcomed by people that want to see less immigration - for example, Jessica Vaughan. She's the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies.

JESSICA VAUGHAN: The employers who formerly chose to hire visa workers instead of U.S. workers are going to have to change their recruiting practices and be looking more seriously at Americans and legal immigrant workers who are already here.

ORDOÑEZ: The White House has been under a lot of pressure from advocates like Jessica to do this.

MARTIN: Although there are employers who will tell you that they don't have the kind of skilled labor here in the U.S., which is why they go abroad, right? What about some of the critiques of this?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, there's been a lot of critiques, even from people who use these foreign workers for help so they can go to work. I talked to Dawn Gile, who heads a military spouse network. She's had four au pairs during the past 20 years while her husband's been on active duty.

DAWN GILE: For me, I work full-time. I need flexible in-home child care that the au pair program provides. And by removing that, it's frustrating for us and scary for us because we don't know what we're going to do for child care, especially given the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic and day cares being closed.

ORDOÑEZ: And you note the business groups - groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers - they say these visa suspensions will actually hurt economic recovery.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.