U.S. President Donald Trump is curbing immigration visas for many categories of foreign workers for the rest of the year, citing the economic damage done by the coronavirus pandemic, including the job losses of American workers.
The freeze applies to work visas that many technology and landscaping companies use, called H-1B, as well as J-1 visas for exchange students and L-1 visas for managers of multinational corporations.
The temporary ban also applies to H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers, although there are exceptions, including food processing workers, health care workers and au pairs who work as child-care providers. Agricultural laborers are also exempt.
White House officials say the move is necessary to protect U.S. workers following heavy job losses during the coronavirus pandemic and will prevent foreign workers from filling 525,000 jobs. In all, 45.5 million workers have filed for unemployment compensation since mid-March, more than a quarter of the U.S. labor force of 164.6 million. The number currently receiving benefits has dropped to about 20.5 million as millions of workers have now returned to their jobs.
Critics say Trump is using the pandemic to advance his goal of reducing immigration into the United States. Trump, who is running for reelection in November, has made a tough immigration stance a central part of his campaign.
Large business groups, including major tech companies as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have opposed the freeze in immigration visas, saying many foreign workers are essential and their absence would stifle the country’s economic recovery following coronavirus lockdowns.
The Trump administration also announced Monday that it was extending a 60-day ban on green cards issued abroad, which was set to expire. Those largely affect family members, although U.S. citizens can continue to sponsor spouses and minor children.
The freezes have a limited immediate effect, as U.S. consulates around the world remain closed for most routine visa processing because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Another group affected by Monday’s changes are asylum-seekers. The Trump administration said it would issue new regulations denying work authorization to asylum-seekers with pending claims for one year.
The orders issued Monday do not apply to immigrants already living and working in the United States.
A poll conducted last month by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland found that 65% of Americans support halting most immigration visas during the coronavirus pandemic. The poll found Republicans widely support such measures, while Democrats were split.