Suspend Visa Programs to Help Unemployed US Workers, Think Tank Urges Trump

May 21, 2020 Updated: May 22, 2020

President Donald Trump should suspend the popular investor visa and white-collar visa programs as part of an effort to reduce the number of temporary foreign workers by 1.2 million, or nearly 50 percent, during the current economic crisis, according to the nonpartisan Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).

The recommendations came this week when CIS, a think tank that describes itself on its website as “low-immigration, pro-immigrant,” held an online panel discussion about its recent “Hire American” report.

Trump has taken some action already to bolster the nation’s labor markets.

On April 22, he issued a proclamation suspending the entry of certain immigrants, including some chain-migration and employment categories, to help ameliorate the labor glut as the nation tries to recover from the lockdowns aimed at combating the CCP virus that causes the disease COVID-19. The presidential document instructed federal agencies to propose additional actions “appropriate to stimulate the United States economy and ensure the prioritization, hiring, and employment of United States workers.”

Trump points while boarding Air Force One
President Donald Trump points while boarding Air Force One as he departs at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on May 21, 2020. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

With vast numbers of native-born Americans and immigrants throughout the country now out of work, millions more who have given up the search for work, and profound uncertainty about any possible national economic recovery, the argument for deep cuts to the pool of foreign workers has never been stronger, according to CIS.

“Suspending the entry of new temporary workers is a no-brainer in the midst of a pandemic and unprecedented economic collapse,” said Jessica Vaughan, the Center’s director of policy studies.

“It’s equally important to slash the number of discretionary work permits, because these create unfair competition for American workers and encourage visitors and illegal entrants to remain here when they would otherwise go home. In addition, taxpayers should not have to provide relief to employers who have chosen guest workers over U.S. workers.”

But Trump hasn’t done enough to help American workers, CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian argued.

More than 30 million people have filed for unemployment, and statistics from early April show more than 20 million people out of work, which is the highest rate of unemployment—nearly 15 percent—since the Great Depression, Krikorian said.

“And when this month’s numbers are reported in June, those numbers will be even higher. There’s simply no question about it.”

There was excitement in April when the president “tweeted out that he was going to halt immigration,” and then followed it with a proclamation “that halted a very small sliver of new green-card arrivals, new permanent immigrants, but did not deal with all of the various so-called nonimmigrant programs, which is to say guest-worker programs.”

Vaughan said there are various work visa programs that should be looked at.

There is the E-visa category, which is used by foreign enterprises to establish a business or commercial presence in the United States or to facilitate the hiring of qualified foreign national employees. It brought in about 60,000 people last year. These are noncitizens from countries the United States has an immigration treaty with who receive temporary work authorization for themselves and their families, and they are allowed to sponsor employees for those businesses, she said.

But they aren’t required to create jobs for Americans, Vaughan said.

“Many of them do, but they really are often self-contained businesses started by noncitizens and where most if not all of the employees are also on temporary work visas.”

That’s one program that should be suspended, at least in the short term, and maybe reformed before it returns so it does not “disadvantage American workers,” she said.

These visas are “of dubious value to our economy, and we need to really look closely at whether these are simply a way to get around our green-card restrictions or are actually bringing in the right kind of foreign investment that’s going to create jobs for Americans.”

Then there are the H-visas, or specifically, the H-1B visas, which cover “white-collar visa workers working mostly in knowledge jobs,” and other areas like accounting, teaching, and nursing. About 190,000 of these visas were issued in 2019, she said.

With all the H-visa programs, the employer is required to promise to pay “a certain wage to the workers,” and not take jobs away from U.S. workers, she said.

What these programs “have in common is that the approval for these visas was based on an economy that is no longer with us,” she said. Because conditions have changed so dramatically, there is “a real question as to whether these programs should be allowed to continue in the near future, given the fact that we have so many Americans and legal immigrants out of work.”

CIS recommends that the Trump administration suspend “all of the new arrivals” and then evaluate visa applications “in light of our current labor-market situation, and at a minimum only allow the most highly paid workers, or the workers in which the employer can still demonstrate that this is not going to disadvantage U.S. workers.”

Doing this would “open up job opportunities for several hundred thousand Americans or legal immigrant workers, potentially, both in jobs not requiring a lot of education and skills and jobs for college graduates in information and technology and other industries,” Vaughan said.

“This would give real relief to Americans whose livelihoods have been lost because of this pandemic shutdown.”