Published on: Jan 08, 2021, Last Edited: Jan 08, 2021
In the last days of his presidency, Donald Trump has extended the visa ban, suspending legal entry into the USA. How will this move affect visa applicants, American businesses, academic institutions, and hospitals?
The previous presidential proclamation 10014 called a halt to most immigrant visa applications (the visa categories that eventually lead to Green Card/ lawful permanent residency). Proclamation 10053 banned entry with non-immigrant visa categories, including H-1b, H-2B, J-1, and L-1. During the economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the bans on foreign workers were considered necessary to protect jobs for US employees.
Various exemptions to the visa bans were implemented, allowing visas to be issued to foreign nationals returning to work for their previous employer, those working in specific vital industries, and individuals deemed to be visiting the US in the national interest.
In October 2020, a court order partly suspended the proclamations, but this ruling applied only to the plaintiffs (who included the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, and TechNet). However, the emergency restrictions on travel for those entering the US from China, the Schengen Area, the UK, Brazil, and Ireland are still in force.
As 2020 and the end of Donald Trump's time in office drew to a close, extensions to these bans were subject to intense debate within the administration. Pro-business pressure groups sought to allow the bans to expire. But those favoring continuing restrictions on immigration prevailed.
President Trump justified the bans earlier this year by stating that non-immigrant visa programs presented a significant threat to US workers' employment. He quoted figures suggesting that while unemployment was falling, there were still over 9 million non-agricultural jobs fewer than in February 2020.
But the November unemployment rate was just 6.7%, reducing from an April high of 14.7% when the president announced the first ban. The IT sector saw a net 0.8% decrease in unemployment from January - November 2020.
Trump's extensions of the visa bans have caused significant hardship to American businesses, their foreign employees, and the families of those foreign workers. The outgoing president's impulsive and poorly-considered actions have been implemented with a suddenness that has caused chaos.
IT companies complained that the visa bans made it harder for American firms to hire the brightest talents from around the world. The bans are seen as benefitting foreign competitors, allowing them to build and develop their industries, a blow to the US tech sector that critics claim has already occurred. US firms say the best remedy would be for President-Elect Biden to reverse the visa ban extensions as soon as possible after he takes office.
American courts have been puzzled by the lack of logic regarding the extension of the visa bans, as well as the Trump administration's measures making legal immigration more difficult. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump had imposed a state of emergency but was leveraging international relations in an attempt to steer domestic policies.
The courts could not allow Trump to alter the delicate balance of policies between the interests of the American workforce and American business interests. The bans have been extended hurriedly, without consulting the parties most affected, and there is no logical justification between the policy and the supposed problem it is addressing.
It appears that the visa ban extensions are motivated by Donald Trump's wish to appease his electoral base. A further effect will be to force Joe Biden into choosing whether or not to revoke the bans soon after taking office. Doing so could be interpreted by the media as undermining the interests of the United States workforce.
Mr. Biden's team has so far refused to comment on when the new administration will revoke the Proclamations regarding non-immigrant visa bans. Many factors are in play, including the state of the US economy and COVID-19 numbers. But even with a speedy reversal of the extensions, backlogs are likely to cause delays in issuing visas for some time to come.