Sanwar Ali: additional reporting and comments
US President, Joe Biden, has allowed the Trump-era US work visa ban to expire. It’s understood that the White House has no plans to renew the controversial restrictions, which were introduced amid the coronavirus outbreak. The order, signed by former President Donald Trump in June 2020, expired on March 31, 2021.
The US visa ban had much less of an effect anyway than many expected, due to other visa restrictions and delays due to COVID-19. There was never a "visa ban" on applications made in the US. The "visa ban" affected visa processing from overseas. Visa processing will continue to face huge delays, perhaps for many months. In addition, under Biden compared to Trump it is more difficult to obtain a National Interest Exception which allows fast visa processing. In many cases National Interest Exceptions are limited to critical infrastructure sectors.
The restrictions saw most US visa categories suspended, with Trump justifying the order in the name of protecting American workers. The former US President argued that the impact of COVID-19 on the US economy and jobs market required the limiting of foreign workers.
More than 40 million Americans are estimated to have lost their job during the worldwide health crisis. At the time, Trump said: “Without intervention, the United States faces a potentially protracted economic recovery with persistently high unemployment if labor supply outpaces labor demand.”
Claims Americans competing against foreign workers
“American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy,” Trump added.
According to The Migration Policy Institute, Trump’s US work visa ban blocked an estimated 219,000 people from entering the country. His controversial proclamation brought US work visa and student visa programs to a standstill.
Among those affected were the H1B visa, H2B visa, H4 visa, L1 visa and certain J1 visas. The order was renewed several times, and extended until March 31 by Trump, prior to him leaving office in January.
Many think that Trump extended the ban to place the burden on Biden to revoke the order, hoping to subject the incoming President to potential criticism for welcoming more foreign workers at a time when the US economy is recovering from the effects of coronavirus.
Policy director with the American Immigration Council, Jorge Loweree, said: “This was a thinly veiled anti-legal immigration measure and not a meaningful effort to respond to the COVID-19 economic fallout as it was billed. “It is good to see the administration moving beyond these pretextual bans.”
Tech sector badly affected
According to Loweree, Trump’s policy had a ‘significant impact’ on the tech sector, which relies heavily on temporary work visas.
He said: “If anything we’ve become even more dependent on tech and computers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
US business groups and immigration advocates have urged Biden to scrap Trump’s order after taking office. However, the President took no action and allowed the ban to run its course.
End of ban opposed
However, in a letter to Biden, Republican senator for Missouri, Josh Hawley, called on Biden to keep the ban in place.
Hawley said: “With millions of struggling Americans out of work – and millions more desperate to make ends meet – now is not the time to open the floodgates to thousands of foreign workers competing with American workers for scarce jobs and resources.”
“It makes no sense to allow a struggling labor market to be flooded with a wave of foreign competition,” Hawley added.
The expiration of the US work visa ban follows on from Biden’s revocation of a 2020 Trump order that stopped many US green card applicants from entering America. The former President issued this order under a similar guise to the work visa ban, citing ‘economic concerns caused by the pandemic’.
Regional restrictions remain
Despite the expiry of the US work visa ban, regional-based travel restrictions still apply, which is preventing US entry for some migrants and travelers because of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is still reportedly using a Trump-era policy that allows for the quick expulsion of migrants in the name of public health.
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