United States President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that will suspend the entry of certain foreign workers until the end of the year, citing the need to protect jobs for US citizens during the coronavirus pandemic.
The executive order blocks the entry of any new foreign workers on H-1B visas, but will not apply to any visa holders that have already entered the US.
"The Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Homeland Security reviewed nonimmigrant programs and found that the present admission of workers within several nonimmigrant visa categories poses a risk of displacing and disadvantaging United States workers during the current recovery," Trump said.
"Under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers."
The US H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ graduate level workers in specialty occupations such as in IT, finance, accounting, architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, and medicine.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, applicants for H1-B visas were already being turned away at an increased rate, which mostly affected Indian foreign nationals. According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services data, almost three out of every four H-1B visa holders were Indian foreign nationals as of October 2018.
H1-B visa rejection rates for some of India's largest tech companies -- TCS, Wipro, Infosys, Tech Mahindra, Cognizant, and HCL Technologies -- had hovered around 4% on average in 2015. However, between September 2018 and April 2019, that rate skyrocketed to 36%.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) denounced Trump's decision, saying it would harm employers, families, universities, hospitals, communities, and delay the country's economic recovery.
"We are all still in the middle of an unprecedented global health and economic crisis that requires us to use all of the tools and resources available to keep Americans healthy and strengthen our economy," AILA president Jennifer Minear said. "Being able to draw on the best and the brightest from around the world has always been an incredible advantage for America."
In addition to H-1B visa holders, those with H-2B and L-type visas will also be denied entry into the US until the end of the year. L-type visas are dedicated to workers that are transferred internally within a company.
Workers with J visas that would be entering the country for an intern, trainee, teacher, camp counselor, au pair, or summer work travel program will also be denied entry.
The suspensions of those categories are in addition to the suspension of any new visas, since April 22, for certain family members of green card holders.
Healthcare workers focused on treating and researching COVID-19, as well as those working in the services essential to the United States food supply chain, and people who "are necessary to facilitate the immediate and continued economic recovery of the United States" are exempt from the restrictions enforced by the executive order.
At the time of writing, the World Health Organization has reported over 2.2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States and almost 120,000 deaths.
More on H1-B visas
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- Trump's H-1B endgame looks to redefine visa in January 2019
- For Indian IT, the H-1B is dying. Long live the H-1B!