President Donald Trump signed an order Monday temporarily halting access to several employment-based visas, affecting hundreds of thousands of people seeking to work in the U.S. The technology industry said the move would hurt the economy.
The order freezes new H1-B and H-4 visas, used by technology workers and their families, as well as L visas for intracompany transfers and most J visas for work- and study-abroad programs, including au pairs, through the end of the year.
The issuance of new green cards will also remain halted through the end of the year.
The action will also pause some H2-B visas for seasonal workers, with an exception for those in the food-processing industry, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters Monday.
Twitter Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. called the order “short-sighted,” saying immigrant tech labor could help the U.S. economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Alphabet Inc. Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai said on Twitter he was “disappointed” and that “we’ll continue to stand with immigrants and work to expand opportunity for all.”
Trump acted with the U.S. facing an unemployment rate of 13.3% after businesses closed or reduced staff in response to the virus outbreak. The president’s order won’t affect immigrant workers who already hold the visas.
“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,” Trump said in his order.
Speaking Saturday in an interview with Fox News, Trump said he wants Americans to take jobs that would otherwise go to people granted the visas.
“We have plenty of people looking for jobs,” he told Fox. “I think it’s going to make a lot of people very happy. And it’s common sense.”
Trump tweeted at the height of the coronavirus pandemic that he planned to “temporarily suspend immigration into the U.S.” Industry groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Information Technology Industry Council, wrote to Trump to express concern that restrictions would disrupt business and hamper growth.
The U.S. issued more than 900,000 visas in fiscal year 2019 in the categories Trump plans to freeze.