New York, May 9
US President Donald Trump has been asked by five lawmakers to temporarily suspend new H-1B and practical training visas as unemployment in the country soars to highest ever numbers on record.
Their proposals do not call for suspending the visas of those already working here and the senators who asked for the year-long hold on Thursday asserted it would benefit the H1-B workers here facing layoffs.
When Trump suspended certain categories of permanent immigrant visas, also known as green cards, for 60 days last month, he left the temporary visas alone.
Four Republican Senators wrote to Trump, "Given the extreme lack of available jobs for American job-seekers as portions of our economy begin to reopen, it defies common sense to admit additional foreign guest workers to compete for such limited employment." A lone Republican member of the House of Representatives, Paul Gosar, had made a similar request to Trump last month following up on his decision to suspend some categories of immigration.
The COVID-19 situation has upended the labour situation, with the nation going from a historically low unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent in February to 14.5 per cent on Friday with more than 30 million people unemployed fuelling the calls for restrictions on foreign workers.
Senators Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Chuck Grassley, and Josh Hawley suggested suspending all work visas for 60 days and then suspending only some categories "for at least the next year, or until unemployment has returned to normal levels." Their proposal for the year-long suspension of new visas would apply to H-1B for professional, non-agricultural H-2B visas, EB-5 for immigrants making investments and the Optional Practical Training (OPT) for students and recent graduates.
By not including agricultural workers in the H-2A category, they are bowing to the demands of the powerful farm lobby which heavily depends on workers coming mostly from Latin America and the Caribbean for short-term assignments.
They also did not specifically mention L-1 visas for employees of foreign companies transferred to work in the US, which are used by Indian companies for projects in the US.
Making their case for temporarily suspending new H1-B visas, the senators mentioned the plight of "hundreds of thousands of H-1B workers and their families already working in the United States-workers who could otherwise be subject to deportation if they are laid off for more than 60 days." Suspending new H1-B visas could help those already find jobs if they are laid off.
They also wanted exemptions for medical and healthcare workers, which were a feature of Trump's green card suspension.
If the OPT visas are suspended, they would seriously impact students who had taken loans, sometimes running into more than $100,000, to finance their education and could find themselves unable to repay them without being able to work here.
While all students can get a one-year OPT, graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are eligible for a two-year extension, which can be a pathway to H1-B visas.
The largest contingent of foreign students are from China, which sent 369,548, followed by India with 202,014, according to the Institute of International Education.
Chinese students have been facing simmering hostility over technology transfer and a very few case of intellectual property theft, which could be used to promote suspending OPT for all.
Indians are the single largest group of H1-B visa-holders accounting for nearly 74 per cent of all such visas and any ban on future visas in the category would likely affect them in the same ratio.
The green card suspension was more of a political showmanship as international travel restrictions and suspension of flights have limited travel making it impossible for most people to travel here.
While only five senators in a chamber of 100 and one Representative out of 435 have made the request, they will get the backing of groups that oppose H1-B visa system saying that it affects US workers.
Technology companies have opposed cutbacks of H1-B visas.
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