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[Update – 6:45pm April 21, 2020: Per Trump’s news conference this evening, an initial executive order will impact only permanent residence (“green card”) cases for a [period of 60 days, and will not impact nonimmigrant filings such as H-1Bs, L-1s, E-2s, O-1s, etc. The order will likely be signed later tonight or tomorrow. In response to a reporter’s question, it was noted that there may be a second, later order which is still under consideration – it remains unclear whether this order would address nonimmigrant visas or other filings.
It also remains unclear whether this will prohibit new green card filings and ongoing processing of existing green card filings, whether ancillary applications based on a primary green card filing such as interim travel and work authorizations will move forward and be adjudicated – or ultimately how this does anything to serve the stated purpose of protecting jobs where more permanent residence applicants impacted are already here and working.]
[Update – 4:20pm April 21, 2020: The New York Times is reporting that an announcement will be made tonight concerning the new policy, and that it will impact only permanent residence rather than “guest worker programs” which presumably include nonimmigrant work visas. It’s still unclear if this is simply a moratorium on approvals allowing continued filing and interim processing of permanent residence cases, as well as processing of work authorization and parole benefits, or whether all work on these cases from acceptance for processing onward will stop.]
Trump announced in a tweet last night a coming presidential pronouncement purporting to suspend immigration to the US. At this writing on the morning of April 21, it remains unclear what this actually means as the order has not yet been released. It may still be unclear even after this comes out.
We don’t at this stage know what kinds of immigration the order will impact, though there are reports that this will impact work visas and green cards. If this is the case, we don’t yet know whether USCIS and ohr agencies processing immigration benefits will still operate, continuing to accept applications and petitions and then reviewing and preparing for final adjudication when the order is eventually lifted. We don’t know if they will still process applications that are not for visas or green cards, such as travel and work authorizations incident to pending Adjustment of Status cases or other non-visa/non-green card benefits.
We also don’t know whether the order in the form it will be announced will hold up in court.
The stated purpose in the tweet was purportedly to protect the US both form the virus and to protect jobs for citizens. With regard to the virus, travel from Europe had already been largely halted and US consular posts globally have been shut down for any new via processing – nonimmigrant or immigrant – for some time now.
It appears at this stage that the main impact will be on people already in the US seeking some other status. If so, the justification of protecting Americans from the spread of the COVID-19 virus makes little or no sense anyone actually impacted is likely already here and isn’t being kept out at all, but rather forced to remain without legal status or leave, further transmitting any infection globally.
It would also ail completely to protect jobs, and would most likely cost many jobs – as well as many lives. As we’ve written many times, interference with visas permitting employment doesn’t preserve jobs for US workers. US businesses tend not to want to spend the time and money to sponsor immigration benefits unless they truly can’t find the workers domestically able to do the work – and with the wage supports built into the H-1B program and other visa types, the claim of undercutting US wages has always been a fallacy.
Rather, US business, unable to get the workers they need to perform certain high-skilled job (particularly in the tech sector), will often relocate a job and sometimes an entire department to another country where the workers are available – taking at best the tax benefit and spending power of a highly paid job out of the US economy, and at worst that of many other jobs as entire departments move abroad (leaving US workers previously employed in those departments without jobs).
Immigrants start business (and so create US jobs) at roughly twice the rate of US citizens per research by the Kauffman foundation (see https://www.kauffman.org/what-we-do/resources/kauffman-compilation-research-on-immigration-and-entrepreneurship). So, the order would amount to shipping new and existing US jobs abroad wholesale.
Even limiting the discussion to health care workers, such an order would endanger American lives. Per the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Washington, the number of physicians, nurses, pharmacists and lab techs who are immigrants hovers around 20% (rising as high as 28% for physicians – see: https://depts.washington.edu/fammed/chws/publication/reports/). The administrations actions in preventing access to one fifth of the available critical healthcare workers during the pandemic [further] directly endangers US lives.
We’ll update this post as we know more about the executive order.