US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on 22 April to put a temporary curb on getting a new green card for permanent residency in that country. According to the president, this will restrict competition for jobs as the US restarts the economy. “In order to protect our great American workers I’ve just signed an executive order temporarily suspending immigration into the United States,” Trump said yesterday at a White House press conference.
Trump said, “This will ensure unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens. Crucially it will also preserve our health care resources for American patients.”
The president’s order will only apply to foreign nationals on foreign soil applying for residency in the US. It does not concern those who currently have valid visas or travel documents.
The order exempts individuals seeking to enter the country permanently as medical professionals or researchers, members of the armed forces, asylum seekers or those wanting to be refugees, and adopted children of American parents.
The order will stay in effect for green card applications for the coming 60 days, subject to extensions in the future. As per the order, the heads of the Department of Homeland Security, State Department, and Department of Labour must make recommendations on extending or terminating the restrictions at least 10 days before their expiry.
The order asks secretaries in the Labour and Homeland Security to review and recommend additional measures within the next 30 days. Sources say the president is sceptical of some employment-based visas and, hence, he could expand the scope of the restrictions. “While some employment-based visas contain a labour certification requirement, because visa issuance happens substantially after the certification is completed, the labour certification process cannot adequately capture the status of the labour market today,” the order said.
The State Department had last month pro tempore suspended routine visa services at embassies and consulates.
Trump dodged the question of applicability of the order beyond holders of the green card during the press conference. He described the measure as “strong”. “As to amending it or extending it, that we can do at the appropriate time, but it’s now signed,” Trump said.
There could be partial divestitures for migrant agricultural workers, the president said, promising to make it even easier for farmers rebounding from the coronavirus crisis to hire labour from other countries.
This order had been expected since Trump had tweeted late Monday that he had planned to “temporarily suspend immigration into the United States.”
This tweet from Trump caught businesses, farmers, and even some White House aides unawares, as lawyers on the president’s team had yet to finish drafting the executive order. Critics said the move would make it more difficult for families struggling due to the global pandemic of coronavirus disease to reunite. Detractors said the order would disrupt attempts by businesses to employ critical workers.
“The exemptions kind of outnumber the included, if you look at the total numbers,” said Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer in Memphis, “and some of those exemptions likely reflect President Trump’s thoughts about immigrants generally as opposed to the labour market. Parents of US citizens and minor children of permanent residents are barred from entry, and they are either too old or too young to compete with US workers for jobs.”
Lora Ries, a senior research fellow for homeland security at The Heritage Foundation, called the order both temporary and narrow. “It is not bringing in additional immigrant workers for the time being while so many U.S. citizens and immigrants already here in the U.S. are now facing dire economic situations,” she said in a phone interview.
Curb on green card pits lawyers against one another
Lawyers have begun debating the order in the public domain. “While the order is limited in scope, President Trump’s transparent attempt to distract from his own failures with this unwarranted suspension will cause real pain for families and employers across the country,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
“The huge exceptions carved out to satisfy powerful business interests, allowing them to employ guest workers when the economy does reopen, is a smokescreen that voters — especially the millions of are out of work — will quickly see through,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that seeks to limit immigration.
“The order,” Stein said in a statement “must be updated and revised to ensure that when the jobs come back, American workers will come back too and not be replaced by a new wave of guest workers.”
This is not Trump’s first order to restrict movements into the US during the period when the pandemic caused by the virus from China has brought world economies to a standstill. He had earlier imposed broad travel curbs on China, Europe, Canada and Mexico to contain the spread of the virus.
Limiting competition to the existing American citizens from migrants has been a mainstay in Trump’s presidency. He has reduced the number of spots for refugees. He has brokered deals with Mexico and Panama to return undocumented migrants to their home countries.
Trump says he does not oppose legal immigration. Yet he supported legislative proposals that would dramatically reduce the number of immigrants able to come to the country legally.
Two days ago, Trump had denied using the pandemic as an excuse to advance elements of his immigration agenda. “No, no,” Trump had said. “I want people that are in this country, I want our citizens to get jobs. I don’t want them to have competition.”
H-1B visa feels no heat
“I don’t think this will have any significant impact on Indian IT services, because no one is anyway travelling to the US right now. Also it is a temporary ban. It may impact some contract finalisations for which face to face meetings were required. Market is driven by sentiments and this may impact some sentiments, but I think larger sense will prevail that at this point nothing is really moving,” said DD Mishra, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner.
“Trump’s being unusually reasonable about this, not announcing any ban on holders of existing visas including H1-B visas—recognising that those jobs are unlikely to get filled by US citizens in a short time, and any disruptions there could affect banking, travel or other services. In fact the US govt has even H-1B visa holders to stay on in the US and apply for an extension if their visas are expiring, given the COVID-19 situation affecting travel back,” says Prasanto K Roy, tech writer and policy analyst.
India is the only country that takes 70% of the 85,000 H-1B visas applied annually. US visa rejection rates for Indian IT companies rose to 24% in 2019, up from just 6% in 2015.
Veiled reference to China
The US president made a veiled reference to the ‘Chinese virus‘ again. when he said, “We were attacked. This was an attack. This wasn’t just the flu by the way. Nobody has ever seen anything like this, 1917 was the last time.”
“We have no choice. Do we have a choice? I’m always concerned about everything. We had to fix this problem,” he said, responding to a question on the growing US national debt as a result of the multi-trillion dollars stimulus packages that his administration has come up with to help people and businesses in distress as a direct fallout of the pandemic.
American commentators say the latest executive order on immigration has little to do with COVID. It is being seen as a measure to please the constituency that hates competition for jobs from Asian holders of the green card and H-1 B visa.