Chris Chmielenski's picture


  by  Chris Chmielenski

Pres. Trump promised with his Monday night Tweet that his Administration would be halting immigration at a time when more than 20 million Americans are filing for unemployment. Unfortunately, the actual Executive Order fell well short of that promise, but there is some room for hope.

While the initial order will last for 60 days, the Administration will re-evaluate the order after 30 days. That means we have the next few weeks to urge the Administration to expand the order.

The most disappointing aspect of Pres. Trump's order is that it doesn't stop the massive importation of guest workers. Freezing the admission of these guest workers would have the single, greatest impact on providing relief for the millions of American workers who have lost work since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, last month's job loses were concentrated in the leisure and hospitality industries. These are the same industries that had been pressuring the Administration for the months leading up to the pandemic (and still do) to increase the number of H-2B low-skilled guest workers.

But job loses aren't limited to only lower-skilled jobs. Forbes is reporting that the high-tech sector is also concerned about how the shelter-in-place orders will impact their bottom lines, which could translate to high-tech job loses.

A Pause in Guest Workers

The most impactful thing the Trump Administration can do is to pause the guest worker programs. Wednesday's Executive Order only impacts green cards, so it will only have a tiny impact on the number of foreign workers entering the country, providing little benefit to American workers.

That's why it's imperative that the Trump Administration decide in these next four weeks to pause the admission of most guest workers.

In FY2019, the federal government admitted close to 1 million guest workers in addition to the 1 million green cards issued. Included were:

  • 204,801 H-2A agricultural guest workers
  • 97,263 H-2B lower-skilled, non-agricultural guest workers
  • 188,123 H-1B higher-skilled guest workers
  • 76,988 L-1 workers of transnational companies
  • 353,279 J-1 Cultural exchange workers who typically work seasonal jobs

In addition, H-4 visa holders (spouses of H-visa holders) continue to receive work permits under an Obama-era rule. And the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program that allows foreign students who graduate from U.S. colleges and universities to work in the United States for up to three years upon graduation also remains in place. In 2018, 145,000 foreign graduates received work permits through OPT.

Suspending most, if not all, of these categories of guest workers would provide immediate relief to the 26 million Americans who have filed for unemployment over the last 6 weeks. It would guarantee that these workers truly are the top priority when the economy opens back up.

CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Deputy Director for NumbersUSA

H-1B visas
H-2B visas

Updated: Mon, May 11th 2020 @ 8:40am EDT

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