Is Trump right for suspending work visas until the end of the year?
- The Trump administration is introducing a series of new restrictions on visas that allow immigrants to temporarily work in the United States, marking the latest effort to bar the entry of immigrants to the country. The new limits are part of a concerted effort to roll back the visas available to people overseas as a result of high unemployment in the US resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
- The new visas included are L-1 visas for intracompany transfers, H-1Bs for workers in specialty occupations as well as the H-4 visa for spouses, H-2Bs for temporary non-agricultural workers and most J-1 visas for exchange visitors.
- The COVID-19 outbreak and the economic downturn it engendered swelled the ranks of unemployed Americans by more than 14 million, from 6.2 million in February to 20.5 million in May 2020. As a result, the U.S. unemployment rate shot up from 3.8% in February – among the lowest on record in the post-World War II era – to 13.0% in May. That rate was the era’s second highest, trailing only the level reached in April (14.4%).
- According to a senior administration official, 'President Trump is focusing on getting Americans back to work as quickly as possible after we've suffered this hit to our economy,' describing an 'America first recovery.'
- Over 20 million people in the U.S. were receiving unemployment benefits as of the week ending June 13, according to the Department of Labor.
America was, and continues to be, grappling with the harsh realities of this pandemic. The harsh economic and social ramifications of this pandemic makes it justified, rather than correct, for President Trump to restrict work visas until the end of this year.
According to Trump's America-first agenda, by suspending incoming work visas, he is setting his administration up to ensure the prioritization of citizens in this temporary recovery period. Even still, this order does not carry out anything harmful to the one-and-a-half million foreign workers and students already in the States. While it's easy to criticize this decision based on his rhetoric and media coverage of the President, this immigration stance is mirrored by geopolitical institutions that have been proportionally devastated by COVID-19 as America. Most notably, European states like Spain and Ireland, as well as other nations such as Singapore.
Also, given the social 'chaos' that is riddling much of urban America, it is quite proactive to remove another variable from this equation. After all, COVID-19 was a foreign virus that spread its way to America. Without strict stances, who knows how long this pandemic will simmer in the United States. Already there seems to be a spike in cases with many individuals letting go of health standards for activism and entertainment purposes, which is why severe measures like this will increase in their frequency at local, state, and federal levels. Another contested stance in favor of Trump's decision could also be how suspensions like this will allow for legal immigration reform that politicians have been calling for, notably Trump's push for a 'more merit-based system' and closing outsourcing 'loopholes.'
Trump's suspension of new work visas will not significantly help American workers and will likely do more harm than good for the economy overall. It was fiercely opposed by business leaders, who feared that his suspension of H1-B visas for high skilled workers would prevent them from recruiting global talent in industries like tech and consulting. The President's justification, calling the cancellation a response to rising unemployment in the U.S., does not reflect the reality of the labor market. Many Americans who have lost their jobs during this crisis cannot be quickly retrained for the high-skilled jobs taken by H1-B visa holders. Thomas J. Donahue, the chief executive of the U.S. chamber of commerce, criticized the visa suspension, saying, 'Restrictive changes to our nation's immigration system will push investment and economic activity abroad, slow growth and reduce job creation.'
The best policy for the economy is one the President's administration has utterly failed on: defeating the pandemic with an effective lockdown, contact tracing, and sanitary measures, as has already happened in other countries. Increased economic activity and the corresponding drop in unemployment will only be possible once the virus has been contained, whereas now cases are surging in Texas, Arizona, Florida, and California. Until companies can safely do business, any hiring changes due to visa policies will look like fiddling at the margins. The visa cancellation would keep out at most 525,000 foreign workers, compared to over 40 million Americans who have filed for unemployment benefits since the shut down in March.