By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will suspend the entry of certain foreign workers, a senior administration official said on Monday, a move the official said would help the economy, but which business groups strongly oppose.
Trump will block the entry of foreign workers on H-1B visas for skilled workers and L-1 visas for workers being transferred within a company through the end of the year, the official said. Trump will also block seasonal workers on H-2B visas, with an exception for workers in the food service industry.
Businesses including major tech companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have said the visa suspension would stifle the economic recovery after the damage done by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Critics of the measure say Trump is using the pandemic to enact his longstanding goal to limit immigration into the United States.
The immediate effects of the proclamation will likely be limited, as U.S. consulates around the world remain closed for most routine visa processing.
Trump is running for re-election on Nov. 3 and has made his tough immigration stance a central pitch to voters, although the coronavirus, faltering economy and nationwide protests over police brutality have overshadowed that issue in recent months.
The visa suspension announced on Monday will open up 525,000 jobs for U.S. workers, the senior official said on a call with reporters, saying it was geared at “getting Americans back to work as quickly as possible.”
Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia will use the department’s statutory authority to investigate abuse of the H-1B visa program, the senior official said.
The Trump administration also finalized a regulation on Monday that will lift a requirement to process work permits for asylum seekers within 30 days, a move that will likely result in longer waits for work authorization.
Trump also will renew an April proclamation that temporarily blocks some foreigners from permanent residence in the United States, the senior administration official said on Monday. The official said that proclamation freed up roughly 50,000 jobs for Americans.
Trump rolled out new health-focused rules in March that allow for the rapid deportation of immigrants caught at the border and virtually cut off access to the U.S. asylum system.
At the same time, he announced the land borders with Canada and Mexico would be closed to non-essential crossings, a measure that has been extended several times.
Doug Rand, co-founder of Boundless, a pro-migrant group that helps families navigate the U.S. immigration system, said the fact that visas use to bring in foreign farmworkers – known as H-2As – were exempt signals that “big agriculture interests are the only stakeholder with any sway over immigration policy in this administration.”
Many other business groups were lobbying against a temporary visa ban before it was announced.
“The immigration restrictionists would like us all to believe that every single company bringing over foreign-born workers is nefarious and just wants to bring in people who are underpaid,” said Rand. “That is a false premise.” More “It is a relatively small number of employers who are using these temporary visas.”
Reporting by Ted Hesson and Steve Holland; Editing by Sandra Maler and Grant McCool.