“It is reprehensible,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which is campaigning for more immigration restrictions. “It would be absurd to import workers into jobs that unemployed Americans would do.”
A Department of Homeland Security official said the government’s moves are surprising given the “rising unemployment rate”. A record 6.6 million people applied for their first unemployment benefit last week, as numerous industries closed completely during the pandemic.
In response to pressure from opponents, the Trump administration has withdrawn some of its plans and has suspended the approval of another 35,000 seasonal worker visas pending further review. However, the other steps remain for the time being.
Trump made action against immigration the centerpiece of his 201
Since the pandemic began, the government has restricted foreign visitors from China, Europe, Canada and Mexico, and postponed hearings for immigrants wishing to stay in the United States. In a broader sense, the processing of visas was interrupted for those who were not granted exceptions.
However, it has also started to simplify the process for companies wishing to hire foreign workers to change some paperwork requirements, including allowing electronic signatures and not physically checking documents.
The government even spoke of increasing the number of visas being offered to wealthy immigrants who are investing money in the United States, although interest on Capitol Hill has cooled, the business leader said.
The DHS is expected to extend visas that expire but cannot be extended because federal offices are closed, the group’s representative said. Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf confirmed this week that he was considering this among other things.
“We are considering a … variety of different options that I think we will have soon, and they will be very beneficial,” he said.
The White House and DHS did not respond to requests for comments.
Trump raised a question at a press conference at the White House on Wednesday about the importance of agricultural visas.
“We want them to come in, ”he said. “We don’t close the border so that none of these people come in. They have been there for years and I have given the farmers an obligation: they will keep going. Or we won’t have farmers. ”
NumbersUSA, which supports immigration restrictions, has been ranting for days against changes in social media and warnings to supporters, especially Wolf, who once campaigned for an association that wanted to maintain a visa program for foreign workers.
“@DHS_Wolf will take in tens of thousands of foreign guest workers in the coming month to satisfy the corporate lobby,” it said sent this week on Twitter. “These migrant workers will be spread across the United States, making Americans unemployed and hindering efforts to combat the corona virus.”
Business, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, pushed for temporary slots for immigrants who came to the U.S., saying companies had trouble filling jobs as unemployment went down. According to representatives of the business sector, lobbying continued even after the corona virus.
“Many migrant workers are currently helping our nation to combat the spread of Covid-19,” said Jon Baselice, the Chamber’s Executive Director for Immigration Policy, medical professionals, scientists and farm workers. “Your contributions to our national well-being are critical to our security until we flatten the curve of this pandemic.”
Immigrant advocates have joined the call not to restrict foreign workers during the current pandemic.
“It has never been so clear that the American economy depends on immigrants and immigration,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy group for immigrants. “This is a community that is currently at the forefront and is able to fill gaps in the workforce.”
Proponents of immigrants have warned that these foreign workers are at risk if they are at the forefront during the corona virus. The problem hit the headlines after a video surfaced showing farm workers working close together without proper protective equipment. María Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Latino organization Voto Latino, said that immigrants who do not speak English well may not understand confusing virus protection guidelines.
Despite Trump’s campaign promise to reduce immigration, the number of temporary visa immigrants has grown steadily during his presidency, reaching 925,000 in 2018, according to the Institute for Migration Policy.
While there is no cap on the total number of agency workers, there are annual restrictions on several of the more than a dozen visa categories. Each year, more than 1 million immigrants are permitted to enter the United States permanently, but only a fraction – 140,000 – come from employment categories.
Companies also apply for far more foreign worker visas than approved. On Thursday, the U.S. citizenship and immigration authorities announced that companies would initially apply for 275,000 specialty worker visas in the 2021 fiscal year. These H-1B visas are limited to 85,000 per year.
The Trump administration has also been working to prioritize the processing of visas for medical personnel given the resource-intensive American health care system.
Last Thursday, the State Department encouraged medical professionals who apply for a work or exchange visitor visa to contact the nearest US embassy or consulate to arrange a visa appointment. Hours later, after some criticism, the department clarified that the person must already have an approved visa application.
The State Department later announced that it would also refrain from interviewing some temporary agency visas. The program was “essential to the economy and food security of the United States and a national security priority.”
Prioritization for some workers is due to a wider suspension of visa services in embassies and consulates around the world. But the Trump administration has outsourced after a push from Congress members and agricultural groups who had already dealt with labor shortages and the aftermath of Trump’s trade wars.
Regardless, before the pandemic, the DHS had announced it would admit another 35,000 workers with seasonal non-agricultural worker visas to “find a careful balance that benefits American companies and workers”.
The H-2B visas were used regularly for workers in the landscaping, household and construction industries and were limited to 66,000. The DHS has added additional visas to this category in the past three years.
The government discussed the reversal of the decision, according to two people familiar with the situation, but went ahead with the plan last week. Employers expect to be able to hire workers within a few weeks, the industry representative said.
After criticism, the DHS reversed the course again. “The DHS rule on the H-2B cap is suspended until the review due to the current economic circumstances,” the department tweeted.