Commentary: On June 24, the Trump Administration implemented new restrictions on visas granted to foreigners that allow them to legally work in the U.S. The visas that will be affected are H-1B visas, which are used for workers in specialty occupations, such as high-tech; H-2B visas for what are referred to as temporary visas for non-agricultural workers (excluding those in the essential food industry); L-1 visas, which allow for intracompany transfers; J-1 visas for exchange visitors; and H-4 visas for spouses. Finally, most asylum seekers will be barred from seeking work permits. These policy changes will be in effect until at least the end of 2020.
This latest policy move sent a lot of visa holders scrambling in search of details. For example, what if a foreigner already holds a H-1B visa that has a duration of three years, but has to technically be renewed every year? If the visa holder is in her first year, will she be rejected for renewal in years two and three? Even immigration lawyers are not certain what to advise their clients, and the Trump Administration supposedly will reveal more details as time goes on. This puts visa holders on a career track with companies in limbo, and makes them and their talents feel unwelcome in the U.S.
Companies should have the right to decide which employees they hire to maximize their production and success. It is not the American way to have the government dictate how they conduct their business and whom they hire to do so. There are industries in which the U.S. has worker shortages. There are also specialty positions that have already exhausted available American workers and must utilize talent from outside of our borders.
Such is the case in the U.S. high-tech sector, in which a lot of the talent comes from foreign countries. In many cases, foreign students come to the U.S., graduate in advanced high-tech fields, and are hired by U.S. tech firms that are competing in highly competitive industries. Contrary to helping U.S. citizens jump to the front of the line, restricting work visas might mean in the high-tech field a critical shortage of workers that are rapidly swept up by other countries eager to compete against the U.S. in global markets. The end result is that U.S. companies get hurt and become less competitive.
Large, multi-national companies use the L-1 series of visas to move staff members around to locations throughout the world. For example, if a company has locations in Asia and North America, the L-1 visa would allow it to transfer a team member located in Japan to Chicago in order to work on setting up a new product line in Tokyo. The team member from Japan could work directly with executives responsible for the launching of this new project. Restricting the L-1 visa impinges on companies’ ability to adjust their worldwide team in order to react to market changes and be innovative in markets.
Due to the nature of my company, in which we conduct business internationally, and especially with Mexico, I have used foreigners who have certain skills and connections that are not readily found in the U.S. Holding H-1B or TN visas, they have legally worked for my company and have brought it success. I certainly would have hired a U.S. citizen for these positions, and I interviewed extensively, placing employment ads in the papers and on Craigslist. None of the U.S. prospects had the bicultural and language skills, experience, and foreign contacts that the non-U.S. citizens possessed. In order to give my business the best chance of success, I hired the best people I could find, and some of them happened to be non-U.S. citizens.
Are the immigration policy changes a new attempt, under the guise of the COVID-19 pandemic, to keep foreigners out of the U.S. in order to protect American workers? Or is this an opportunistic move during a crisis to further expand anti-immigrant policies that the Trump Administration has taken since entering office? The end result is the same – U.S. companies that use foreign talent in their operations will be restricted in whom they hire and how they operate in general.
Finally, what does the restriction of visas tell the world? That we have utmost concern for our citizenry and want to protect them economically from job losses during the pandemic? Or will most of the world see it as a bald-faced move to further isolate the U.S. and to keep foreigners out of our country? And who exactly deserves to be the first in line to have a shot at a job? Are we going to get to the point where Americans who were born on U.S. soil are first in line and those who have been naturalized second? That would have sounded preposterous a few years back, but apparently everything is possible now.