Comments by Sanwar Ali:
Donald Trump on Friday 5 June 2020 boasted about the strength of the US economy. Levels of employment were far higher than expected with apparently 2.5 million jobs added in May. Many had predicted very high levels of unemployment in the US. Much of the time you cannot believe what President Donald Trump says. This time there may be some truth in his statements. However, some have commented that a national unemployment rate of 13.3 percent is high and nothing to boast about.
Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute had the following to say:
“Even if everyone who was on temporary layoff went to work tomorrow, and the only people who were unemployed were people who had been permanently laid off, we’d still have recession-level unemployment. We’d still have lost a half-decade of progress.”
Hopefully, lower levels of unemployment than expected will reduce the pressure on Trump to bring in additional restrictions on US work visa routes including the H1B visa, L1 visa, H2B visa, and Optional Practical Training for F1 visa students. There is still ongoing uncertainty over this.
There has also been controversy over a Trump visit to a church earlier in the week on 1 June 2020. Rabbi Jack Moline, President of the Interfaith Alliance, had the following to say:
"Seeing President Trump standing in front of St John's Episcopal Church while holding a Bible in response to calls for racial justice - right after using military force to clear peaceful protesters - is one of the most flagrant misuses of religion that I have ever seen."
21 US Congress members have written to the Trump administration urging support for the US immigration Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. The 21-strong group is calling on the government to back the program so that the US can “attract, educate, and engage with the best and brightest students” from around the world.
The OPT program is an extension of US study visas, which allows immigrant graduates from US universities to find employment in an area associated with their studies, for 12-months or more if they have a STEM degree.
However, amid the coronavirus pandemic, there have been renewed efforts by the Trump administration to restrict the OPT program because of rising unemployment levels among American workers.
Those in favor of restricting the OPT program argue that there is little reason to allow migrant students to take job roles that could potentially go to American workers as the US economy starts to recover.
International F1 visa students contribute billions to US economy
The letter, sent to secretary of state, Mike Pompeo and acting Homeland Security secretary, Chad Wolf on June 2, outlined the contribution made by international students and their families to the US economy. According to the letter, foreign students contributed approximately $41 billion to the economy in 2018-2019 alone.
This huge contribution to the US economy came despite migrant students making up just 5.5% of total US college enrollments. An excerpt from the letter reads: “The endurance of this tremendous economic contribution requires our nation adopt and retain policies that keep the United States competitive for new students.”
F1 and J1 visas
The letter also draws attention to the global closure of US embassies and consulates around the world and the impact it has had on international students seeking to schedule US visa appointments and get information on how US consulates plan to prioritize and process F1 and J1 visa applications, among others.
“Additionally, we urge the administration to publicly clarify that OPT will remain fully intact so we send the right messages abroad about the US as an attractive destination for international students,” the letter reads.
“As countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, China and Australia bolster immigration policies to attract and retain international students, the last thing our nation should do in this area is make ourselves less competitive by weakening OPT,” the Congress members said.
OPT Optional Practical Training creates employment
Official studies show that OPT creates employment for American workers rather than taking it away. Meanwhile, the number of students enrolled in OPT programs increased from 203,460 in 2017-2018 to 223,085 in 2018-2019.
However, the 21 House Republicans did acknowledge that ‘some nations could seek to exploit certain US international student programs for their benefit.
On 29 May, Trump signed a proclamation suspending US entry for some Chinese graduates in order to ‘protect intellectual property.’
In the letter, Congress members said: “We believe there are strategic and targeted approaches to combatting practices that seek to exploit programs, without weakening or suspending in full our international student programs.”
“We stand ready to work with your offices to ensure US visa and immigration policies function well for all who are looking to contribute… and respectfully request the administration make clear international students and scholars are encouraged to study and conduct research,” the letter concludes.
The 21 House Republicans who signed the letter are Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), Rep. Peter King (R-TX), Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA), Rep. John Katko (R-NY), Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA), Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ), Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Rep. Trent Kelly (R-MS) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).
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