The Trump administration has recently moved to drastically expand immigration restrictions in the U.S. by freezing the issuance of all green cards and H1-B related visas for foreign workers and their dependents.
On June 22nd, 2020, President Trump authorized this policy via executive order, and it officially became enacted throughout the U.S. by June 24th. The policy will remain in effect until December 31st, 2020, after which point the fate of the policy falls into the hands of the next presidential administration.
Supporters of the legislation hope that it will help to protect the U.S. economy amidst the current economic crisis that has cast over 40,000,000 Americans into unemployment. By limiting the amount of foreign workers allowed into the country, many hope that American companies will be forced to revert to filling their positions with American workers rather than foreigners.
However, many also fear that banning these workers could end up having disastrous effects on our economy, as H1-B visas are specifically intended to sponsor workers who possess skills that are currently in short supply amongst the domestic labor force. Without these foreign workers, there is a legitimate concern that companies will not be able to find proper replacements within the U.S., which could have wide reaching consequences for some of our country’s most vital industries.
Of the over 580,000 H1-B visa holders in the U.S., 73.8% of them are from India, followed by China at 11.1%, and all other countries at around 1% or less. A vast majority of these immigrants work in the tech industry, and they currently comprise the backbone of the labor force in Silicon Valley. Large tech corporations often seek out these foreign workers as they possess valuable skill sets in areas such as Computer Science and Information Technology, and they are willing to work for considerably less than U.S. citizens in similar positions.
This underpayment of workers raises a valid concern that some of our country’s largest corporations are exploiting this source of foreign labor at the expense of U.S. citizens, which is why many have come to support this policy. Yet, without addressing the lack of technological skills amongst U.S. workers as the root of the issue, many fear that this legislation will simply encourage these corporations to directly outsource their labor to other countries. Additionally, the legislation could encourage workers to flock to other countries with booming tech sectors that do not have such heavy immigration restrictions, such as Canada, the U.K., and Germany. This could give these countries a comparative advantage over the U.S. when it comes to tech, which would disrupt America’s current position as the leader of global technology.
Those who are already in the U.S. on their H1-B visas are permitted to remain in the country for now, though some speculate that the Trump administration may be seeking to gradually expel them from the country as well. This would take place through imposing a second labor certification process that would require companies to prove that they can not find a comparable American worker to do the job. If they can find such an employee, then the current visa holders would be forced out of the U.S.
This could have damaging effects for some immigrant communities, namely Indian-Americans, for whom H1-B visas are currently the most common source of entry into the United States. However, this second labor certification process currently remains up in the air, and it will likely not be decided on until after Trump’s first term comes to end. If Trump is re-elected, then he may seek to continue his harsh immigration policies by further expanding them in scope. Yet, if Biden is elected, he has promised to lift the restrictions and permit the issuance of these H1-B visas and green cards once again. This means that the fate of these foreign workers will ultimately be decided upon in the upcoming election this November.
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