The issuance of H-1B, H-2B, L and certain J nonimmigrant visas will be paused until December 31 2020, the order – effective at 12:01 am EDT on June 24, 2020 – has said. Student F and M visas and the post-study work route, OPT, will not be impacted.
While this is some relief to the sector, nonetheless, the move will hamper US economic growth, international education experts have warned.
J-1 visa holders taking part in au pair, camp counsellor, intern, summer work travel, teacher, and trainee programs will all be affected.
The rule will not impact those already in the US on existing visas or foreign nationals already in possession of visas.
“American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy, including against millions of aliens who enter the US to perform temporary work,” the proclamation read.
“Temporary workers are often accompanied by their spouses and children, many of whom also compete against American workers,” it continued.
While “properly administered” temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy under ordinary circumstances, certain nonimmigrant visa programs “pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers” due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
“International exchange programs contribute more than $1.2 billion to the US economy”
The order is an extension of an April announcement suspending the entry of aliens as immigrants for 60 days.
Speaking to Fox News on Sunday, president Trump indicated an executive order would help to protect US jobs.
“We have plenty of people looking for jobs… you know we set a record last month. In the history of our country we did a better job than they’ve ever done on jobs. The country is coming back, it’s coming back very, very fast,” he said on June 21.
The administration said young Americans compete with certain J nonimmigrant visa applicants, highlighting that the unemployment rate for 16-19 year olds in May was 29.9%, while for 20-24 year olds it was 23.2%.
Ilir Zherka, executive director of the Alliance for International Exchange, said the organisation opposes the inclusion of the J-1 Exchange Visitor programs in the proclamation.
“These international exchange programs help American families, while enabling American host businesses to remain open year-round,” Zherka explained.
“They do not displace American workers, and, in fact, contribute more than $1.2 billion to the US economy. These important cultural exchange programs have strong, bipartisan support. The Alliance will continue working to protect these critical programs,” he added.
“We believe it is possible to reopen the economy in concert with health considerations, while continuing people-to-people diplomacy.”
CEO and president at InterExchange Christine La Monica-Lunn concurred, stating that the Exchange Visitor J-1 programs “do not have a reason to be included in a proclamation about labour”.
Programs such as au pair, camp counsellor, intern, trainee and SWT serve the interests of US public diplomacy, she added.
“The proclamation will prevent youth from around the world an opportunity to experience American culture and values first hand,” she told The PIE News.
“Unfortunately, this doesn’t help Americans get back to work. This throws up another challenge for working families and employers who are trying to get back to normal.”
Others in the sector began using a #SaveJ1s hashtag on Twitter. “Sad decision which will deprive people (not taking jobs from us) of cultural exchange & professional training. Then they’ll go elsewhere like Canada or Australia,” tweeted Amy Morrow.
J-1 visas for physicians, medical researchers, or – much more obscurely – secondary school students would be exempt, according to Rebecca Bernhard, partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney.
“In addition to extending those earlier restrictions [in April], this new order now curtails the issuance of new work visas for H-1B professional workers, H-2B non-agricultural workers, non-physician J-1 visas, and L-1 intracompany transferees, as well as their dependent family members,” she said.
“America must ensure that we continue to attract the world’s brightest and best researchers, innovators, and scientists”
“The order hints at more immigration restrictions to come, although additional restrictions will not likely be issued through an executive order. Further policy is likely to be issued through the federal rulemaking process which could take several months.
“President Trump has made it clear that he sees restricting immigration as a key campaign issue, so it is likely that as the election draws closer we will see further action on these issues,” Bernhard added.
Association of American Universities president Mary Sue Coleman said the action will “harm our nation’s economic and scientific competitiveness while failing to achieve any of the president’s stated goals in issuing it”.
“While we share the administration’s concern about limiting the spread of COVID-19, this order will not stem the spread of the disease. America must ensure that we continue to attract the world’s brightest and best researchers, innovators, and scientists to drive scientific discovery and the economic innovation and job growth that discovery bring,” Coleman noted.
“The H-1B and H-4 visa programs that today’s executive order curtails have long allowed bright, hard-working individuals to come to America and contribute to our nation’s educational endeavors and scientific innovation. Depriving our nation of talent threatens, rather than safeguards, our nation’s health and economic security.”
Sumeet Jain, co-founder & higher education expert at India-based study abroad network Yocket said that the temporary order will not affect students they deal with “at all”.
This may bring positive news for students looking for a job post graduation.
“Students on OPT might become more in demand. If no new H1B candidates can come from outside, this opens up greater opportunity for students who will be changing their status to OPT,” he said.
“Tech jobs are ample and with a limited pool of talent, supply will work in benefit of the international students.”
But Sema Alpaytac, founder of Turkish Help Center in Miami, said there would undoubtedly a knock-on effect on labour support for companies.
“Living and working in Miami, Florida, where Turkish Airlines has had regular daily flights to and from Istanbul until the pandemic hit, I have been witnessing the growth of Turkish investment in the area over the past 7 years,” she told The PIE News.
“For instance, Turkish construction giants like ANT YAPI are backed with manforce and knowhow from Turkey, meaning that there are a considerable number of people on H-1B, L-1 and J-1 visas.”