US actively considering extending visa restrictions for foreign workers: Report

US is considering suspending non-immigration visas amid rising unemployment

H-4-visa-immediate-family-members-of-the-H-1B-visa-holders-stamp-us-shut The 60-day suspension of the immigration process, which started on April 22 due to the COVID pandemic, expires on Monday | File

The Donald Trump administration is considering a significant expansion of current visa restrictions for foreign workers, the Financial Times newspaper reported on Thursday. Many of Trump's top advisers and cabinet members had a meeting on Tuesday to discuss a potential executive order to suspend the issuance of visas to several classes of individuals, the newspaper reported, citing four people briefed on the meeting.

The news comes as the 60-day suspension of the immigration process, which started on April 22, expires on Monday. With the deadline fast approaching, many business groups are skeptical that the new orders might go beyond the renewal. The Trump administration has argued that the coronavirus pandemic requires limits on immigration to prevent sick people from entering the country and to ensure that Americans get jobs first as the economy rebounds.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal had reported that the US is considering suspending a number of employment in view of the massive unemployment in America due to the coronavirus pandemic. Following the report, Washington-based ITI, an advocacy group with representation from Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Accenture, had written to the Trump administration against the reported proposal to ban all non-immigrant visas.

The US government reportedly is mulling to sign an executive order that will temporarily ban the entry of non-immigrant workers with H-1B, H-2B, L-1, and J-1 visa classifications. H-1B and L-1 visas cover skilled workers and intra-company transfers. H-2B visas cover temporary seasonal workers, and J-1 visas cover work and study exchange programmes.

According to a blog published by The National Law Review, the US administration prefers an additional 120-day ban. What is more worrying is that the ban would likely include non-immigrant workers who were selected in this year’s H-1B visa lotteries to start working in the US in October. 

The news will dash the hopes of thousands of Indian applicants for the H-1B. India is among the largest beneficiaries of the non-immigrant visa programme. Until now, since this year's visa processing was underway, it was widely expected that further restrictions on non-immigrant visa would affect only applicants in the next year. Other initiatives under consideration would increase H-1B visa fees by $20,000, increase mandatory minimum wages for foreign workers at every level of the federally-mandated wage scale, and narrow the definitions of “specialty occupation,” “employer,” “employee,” and “employer-employee relationship.”  Finally, some of these initiatives would revoke existing programmes, including work authorisation for spouses of visa beneficiaries under the H-4 visa program, and work authorization for asylees, refugees, and temporary protected status holders, the blog said. 

However, there are exemptions for non-immigrant workers performing coronavirus-related medical research, healthcare professionals, and food supply workers, as well as employers who are unable to recruit American workers to fill certain positions. The order likely will also include a broad national interest catch-all exception, as well as a mechanism for companies to seek an exemption for a “specified reason”. However, a clear picture on what might qualify as a “specified reason” is yet to emerge.