Immigration Suspension – Business Feels Impact on Talent

by Diane Hernandez

Wednesday, the White House officially issued a proclamation “temporarily suspending immigration into the United States,” calling it a response to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

It appears this latest limit on legal immigration will greatly impact those seeking permanent residency through employment or exceptional ability. These individuals have, in most cases, already gone through long, costly and highly detailed application processes and are at the end of the process, waiting only for the green card. This kind of limit is illogical and seems to serve no rational purpose. Whenever this country emerges from lockdown, we will need these highly qualified workers in industries such as healthcare, education, and STEM fields such as science and engineering to help grow the economy back to prior levels. Locking these people out will be a mistake.

It is possible that the administration has purposely limited this suspension to those seeking permanent residency and specifically not temporary visas such as H1Bs because it knows, or has been advised, that suspending the H1B program at this time would be catastrophic for many industries that are right in the middle of the annual H1B lottery application process. It’s possible that business leaders have already warned the administration against pausing the temporary visa work programs that are critical to many companies.

The idea that pausing the green card processes for highly qualified and thoroughly vetted individuals in order to protect U.S. jobs right now is misplaced, especially since most of the jobs that have been lost to the COVID-19 crisis are in hospitality and similar industries — hotel jobs, restaurant workers, etc. These are not jobs that highly qualified immigrant workers come to the U.S to fill. The executive order, itself, states that those that are out of work in the U.S. are those who are “last in” and “first out” and many without a college degree. The EO contains rhetorical language about protecting these “already disadvantaged and unemployed Americans from the threat of competition for scarce jobs,” but in reality, those who enter the U.S. on employment-based green cards are not going to be competing for lower-level positions that require no college degree. The kind of competition that the EO attempts to blame through patriotic talk does not exist at any level that would justify this latest political move against legal immigration.

Diane Hernandez is an attorney at the national law firm Hall Estill in its employment and immigration law practice.

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