US possible work visa ban and Chinese journalist restrictions

Comments by Sanwar Ali:

Some Republicans feel that because of coronavirus and high unemployment, the US should suspend the issuance of certain temporary work visas.  If the US does suspend applications for certain work related non-immigrant visas this is likely to cause severe problems for many companies in the US.  Companies that are hoping to recover from an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus will have greater difficulty hiring people with the right skills.  Could affect visas such as the H1B visa, L1 visa, work authorisation for F1 students and other non-immigrant visa categories. 

Amid mounting tensions between the US and China over the global coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has tightened US visa rules for Chinese journalists. US officials say that the move is in response to the treatment of American journalists based in China.

The US and China have been involved in a series of tit for tat exchanges involving journalists in recent months, as US President Donald Trump continues to take a swipe at China over the coronavirus crisis.

In March, journalists from three US newspapers were expelled from China. This followed an announcement from the United States, which said it would begin to treat five Chinese state-run media outlets with US operations, the same as foreign embassies. The day after this announcement, Beijing kicked three Wall Street Journal reporters out of the country.

Two of those expelled were Americans and one, an Australian. They were ordered to leave China following an opinion piece that was published, which described the People’s Republic of China as racist.

Suppression of independent journalism

Announcing tighter US visa restrictions for Chinese journalists, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) accused China of ‘suppressing independent journalism.’

The new rules will limit visa validity for Chinese reporters to 90 days, although the option to extend will be available. Visas issued to Chinese journalists are typically open-ended and wouldn’t normally require an extension, unless the visa holder switched companies or changed job type.

A senior official for the DHS, who asked not to be named, said: “The new rules will allow the department to review Chinese journalist visa applications more frequently and will likely reduce the overall number of Chinese journalists in the United States. It’s going to create greater national security protections.”

It’s understood that the new restrictions will not apply to reporters with a passport from Hong Kong or Macau, which are considered Chinese territories.

Mounting tensions between the US and China

In recent months, US-Chinese tensions have increased amid the outbreak of coronavirus, which has swept across the globe. In April, Trump said he was ‘confident that the coronavirus may have originated in a Chinese virology lab.’ However, Trump refused to clarify his evidence for this.

Trump’s comments sparked outrage from officials in Beijing, with the Chinese state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology dismissing the US President’s allegations.

A number of disease experts believe that the virus originated in a market selling wildlife in Wuhan.

China retaliates

China has since threatened to retaliate with its own visa restrictions on US journalists. Beijing has warned Washington to ‘correct its mistakes’, while Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that China rejects and deplores the USA’s actions, which Zhao described as an ‘escalation of suppression against Chinese media.’

Possible suspension of US work visas

Alongside tighter US visa restrictions for Chinese journalists, the Trump administration is considering the suspension of US work visas. Amid rising unemployment rates in the US, caused by COVID-19, US President Donald Trump has been urged to suspend work visas issued to migrants.

Four US lawmakers have written to Trump seeking the suspension of guest worker visas, which could include H1B visas, L1 visas and E1 and E2 visas, for at least 12 months or until unemployment rates drop.

The letter says: “It defies common sense to admit more foreign workers for such limited employment.”

Meanwhile, a number of US-based Indian IT companies, which rely heavily on H1B visas, have voiced concerns over possible US work visa suspensions.

Shailesh Shah, CEO at Strta Consulting said: “A move to temporarily suspend H1B visas will be unprecedented for the Indian IT sector who definitely rely on these visas for many of their contracts within US. If at all such a law is passed, it will trigger a new wave of recruitment by Indian IT firms within the US in the short term.”

Pareekh Jain, founder of EIIRTRend and Pareekh Consulting, said: “Any such law, if at all passed, will be only implemented next year, given the H1B visa application process for this year has already begun.”

“Even a temporary ban on H1B visas is highly unlikely as Indian and global tech firms, and Silicon Valley start-ups have been hiring Indians on H1B visas,” Jain added.

Recently, Workpermit.com reported that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had announced a 60-day grace period for US work visa and green card applicants asked to submit requested documentation.

A USCIS statement said: “In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, USCIS is extending the flexibilities it announced on March 30 to assist applicants and petitioners. Applicants and petitioners asked to provide additional documents to support their application between March 1 and July 1, 2020 now have 60 extra days to send documents.”

Coronavirus in the US

The coronavirus death toll in the US has exceeded 80,000, with 81,937 fatalities reported. Total cases in the US have hit more than 1.3 million (1,387,499). Meanwhile, in a recent video, US President Donald Trump claimed that the coronavirus will ‘go away without a vaccine’, despite having no evidence to support this claim.

In the video, Trump said: “Other viruses, like the flu, disappeared before vaccines were created. They’ve never shown up again. They die, too. Like everything else, they die. It’s [coronavirus] going to go away and we’re not going to see it again, hopefully, after a period of time.”

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