Thousands of Canadians could be affected by Trump’s decision to extend visa ban
By Deb Riechmann and Elliot Spagat/The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Thousands of Canadians working for technology companies or multinational corporations in the United States could be affected by a new ban that freezes the issuance of temporary work visas until the end of the year.
The Trump administration on Monday extended a ban on green cards issued outside the U.S. and added many temporary work visas to the freeze.
The ban on new visas, which takes effect Wednesday, applies to four categories including H-1B, H-2B, J-1 and L-1.
In 2019, more than 4,600 people born in Canada were approved as beneficiaries under the H-1B alone, which is widely used by American and Indian technology companies, according to a report compiled by the citizenship and immigration division of the Department of Homeland Security.Advertisement
Documents provided by the U.S. State Department also showed more than 400 Canadians with impacted visas last year, including 101 for the H-1B and 156 for the J-1. The State numbers also show 161 Canadians with L-1 visas, issued to managers and other multinational employees, and five H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers.
The Trump administration cast the effort as a way to free up jobs in an American economy reeling from the coronavirus. A senior official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity predicted it will open up to 525,000 jobs for Americans, a claim that was immediately challenged by critics.
Ban affects legal immigration
The ban, while temporary, represents a cut to legal immigration on a scale that had eluded the administration before the pandemic. Long-term changes that would prevent many asylum seekers from getting work permits and would allocate high-tech worker visas differently are also being sought.
Business groups pressed hard to limit the changes, but got little of what they wanted, marking a victory for immigration hardliners as Trump seeks to further solidify their support ahead of the November election.
There will be exemptions for food processing workers, which make up about 15 per cent of H-2B visas, the official said. Health-care workers assisting with the coronavirus fight will continue to be spared from the green-card freeze, though their exemption will be narrower.
“In the administration of our Nation’s immigration system, we must remain mindful of the impact of foreign workers on the United States labour market, particularly in the current extraordinary environment of high domestic unemployment and depressed demand for labour,” Trump wrote in his presidential proclamation.
Trump imposed a 60-day ban on green cards issued abroad in April, which was set to expire Monday. That announcement, which largely targeted family members, drew a surprisingly chilly reception from immigration hardliners, who said the president didn’t go far enough.
The new steps to include non-immigrant visas went a long toward appeasing hardliners.
“This is a bold move by the Trump administration to protect American jobs,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restrictions. “Not all the items on our checklist of needed actions are included in today’s announcement, but the corporate lobbyists who were desperately fighting for exceptions to protect their clients’ access to cheap foreign labour have largely been rebuffed.”
U.S. Chamber CEO critical of move
Thomas J. Donohue, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive officer, said the measures will harm, not help, the American economy.
“Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back,” he said. “Restrictive changes to our nation’s immigration system will push investment and economic activity abroad, slow growth, and reduce job creation.”
BSA, a group that represents major software companies, urged the administration to reconsider, particularly changes to the H-1B program, saying they will hinder economic recovery by making it harder to fill critical positions.
“Filling these roles that are more abundant than the number of U.S. employees qualified to fill them means these jobs can be kept in the U.S.,” the group said. “This allows companies based in the U.S. to remain globally competitive, which in turn boosts the U.S. economy, creating jobs for millions of Americans.”
The freezes on visas issued abroad are designed to take effect immediately. Other changes, including restrictions on work permits for asylum seekers, will go through a formal rule-making process that takes months.
The administration is proposing a new way of awarding H-1B visas, the official said, awarding them by highest salary instead of by lottery.
H-1B visas are capped at 85,000 a year for people with “highly specialized knowledge” and minimum of a bachelor’s degree, often in science, technology, engineering, teaching and accounting. Critics say high-tech companies have used the visas as a tool to outsource jobs to foreigners, replacing Americans.
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