White House Extends Work Visa Suspensions

The White House has announced the restriction of several categories of work visas for non-American citizens, in response to high unemployment levels following the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Following the announcement, experts expressed concern about how the suspensions would affect the science and technology industries.

The new restrictions follow orders issued in June that suspended visas to researchers and postgraduate students from China, citing security concerns and threats to intellectual property.

The order, which went into effect June 24 and will remain in place until the end of the year, suspended the issuing of new visas for the following programs:

  • the H-1B or H-2B visa for temporary employment in specialty occupations
  • the J visa for educational exchange and training programs
  • the L visa for international intracompany transfer of employees

The restrictions also apply to spouses and family of visa holders and will keep as many as 525,000 foreign workers out of the U.S. for the rest of the year, according to The New York Times.

In 2019, the U.S. issued more than 188,000 H-1B visas across all sectors, according to the Department of State. Industries like scientific research and technology development, which heavily rely on the international exchange of labor, will be dramatically affected by the new suspensions. According to a January 2020 report from the National Science Foundation, 30% of workers in science and engineering jobs in the U.S. hail from outside of the country.

“Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back,” said Thomas J. Donohue, Chief Executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Restrictive changes to our nation’s immigration system will push investment and economic activity abroad, slow growth, and reduce job creation.”

Following legal challenges from several states and universities, the White House announced in mid-July that it would resume specific visa services for international students taking classes fully online.

Sources: The New York Times, June 22, 2020; White House Presidential Action announcement, June 22, 2020; The Washington Post, June 26, 2020.