President Joe Biden recently rescinded former President Donald Trump’s ban on family-based immigration amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but he is unlikely to rescind Trump’s ban on highly-skilled temporary workers entering the U.S.
“The optics aren’t great. Biden hasn’t taken any actions to rescind it, possibly because of push-back from organized labor and a thrashing from Republicans,” Indian American immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta told India-West, confirming that temporary workers coming to the U.S. on employment-based visas are still banned, under a proclamation the former president issued last July, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., as unemployment numbers soared above 10 percent, with more than 32 million people claiming unemployment, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Biden needs support to pass a stimulus bill,” Mehta added. Trump’s ban is set to expire March 31.
Visa categories included in the ban are H-1B workers and their spouses; H-2B visas for non-agricultural workers; J visas for student exchange programs; and L visas for intra-company transfers.
Exceptions were not initially made for health care workers, despite the pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 500,000 U.S. residents; the proclamation was later modified to allow some health care workers to enter the U.S.
Highly-skilled workers from India make up about 70 percent of the H-1B work force. Workers who were approved for the H-1B program during the April lottery were not able to get U.S. visas to start their jobs last October, when the 2021 fiscal year began.
On June 22, 2020, Trump issued Proclamation 10052, titled “Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak.”
“The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has significantly disrupted Americans’ livelihoods. Since March 2020, United States businesses and their workers have faced extensive disruptions while undertaking certain public health measures necessary to flatten the curve of COVID-19,” wrote Trump, adding: “millions of Americans remain out of work.”
“American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy, including against millions of aliens who enter the United States to perform temporary work. Temporary workers are often accompanied by their spouses and children, many of whom also compete against American workers. Under ordinary circumstances, properly administered temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy.”
“But under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers,” reads Proclamation 10052.
Technology jobs count for a tiny fraction of unemployment rates. The U.S. Labor Department reported 112,000 tech jobs were lost last April, when the ban was issued. Tech start-ups laid off 56,000 employees overall.
The National Foundation of American Policy analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics data to conclude that unemployment for computer occupations was not affected by the COVID pandemic. The unemployment rate for individuals in computer occupations declined from 3 percent in January 2020 to 2.8 percent in April. It fell again to 2.5 percent in May 2020.
“New immigration restrictions based on a claim that computer occupations have been unduly harmed by the economic fallout from the coronavirus would be without a factual foundation,” said NFAP in a statement last July. “The data raises significant questions about the Trump Administration’s using the unemployment rate for computer professionals to justify the new restrictions on H-1B visa holders.”
Forbes magazine analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which noted greater drops in unemployment in the tech sector at the beginning of 2021.
In January 2021, in computer and mathematical occupations, the unemployment rate declined to 2.4 percent, compared to a pre-pandemic rate of 3.0 percent in January 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In computer occupations, the unemployment rate declined from 3.0 percent in January 2020 to 2.7 percent in January 2021.
Critics thus justifiably argued that Trump’s ill-timed ban was implemented even as more technology and health care jobs were needed during the pandemic.
In April 2020, Trump had issued a similar ban which barred those seeking to become legal permanent residents from entering the U.S. He justified the action, stating high unemployment rates and a reduced demand for labor, amid the pandemic and stay at home orders across most states in the nation. The rule, Proclamation 10014, applied to people outside the U.S., as of April 24, 2020, who were being sponsored to the U.S. by relatives, including parents of U.S. citizens.
President Joe Biden revoked Proclamation 10014 Feb. 24, stating that the contention on which it was based was false.
Trump’s ban “does not advance the interests of the United States. To the contrary, it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here,” said Biden.
“It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world,” wrote the president in his proclamation.
At a Feb. 25 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “The president believes that it’s important and long overdue to modernize our immigration system, and that includes taking steps to help ensure that high-skilled workers can stay in the country and can go through the proper process to stay in the country.”
“So we’re eager to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to get that done,” she said.