Four US Republican senators urge Trump to halt work visas temporarily

Ritu Jha-

Four Republican US senators have written a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to suspend certain employment-based immigration permits for at least the next year and all new guest worker visas for 60 days, or until unemployment has returned to “normal levels,”

The letter, sent May 7 and signed by Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Charles E Grassley of Iowa, and Josh Hawley of Missouri, says the country is going through a critical phase and pointed to work-visa programs while urging the president to immediately suspend H-IB visas (specialty occupation workers), and the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program (extension of foreign student visas after graduation).

“We also urge you to suspend the immigrant visa program, effective immediately. nonagricultural seasonal workers’ visa,” the letter reads.

It says the United States admits more than one million nonimmigrant guest workers every year, and there is no reason to admit most such workers when the nation’s unemployment is so high.

Pointing to job losses because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has led to a sudden hold on the thriving US economy, the senators cited the more than 33 million Americans who filed for unemployment coverage since mid-March, the approximately one-fifth of the American workforce out of work.

Sharing her concern, Kalpana Peddibhotla, immigration attorney, at Mathews & Peddibhotla Law Group of Fremont, California, told indica the senators’ position is fundamentally wrong. Foreign workers actually help grow the economy and that the companies are facing global challenges.

“The letter ignored the evidence on how foreign nationals provide essential services and at present are on the frontline with respect to the current COVID-19 in the healthcare industry,” Peddibhotla said. “This letter doesn’t address any of that.”

She believes the letter is an opportunistic attempt to utilize a global pandemic and an economic crisis to push an unrelated and misleading anti-immigrant agenda.

The letter cites no studies and has no indication that shutting off new immigration will substantially decrease the historically high unemployment rate. Instead these Senators are using the crisis to scapegoat immigrants. Immigrants are part and parcel of our economic success often pioneering innovation and performing some of the most difficult jobs.

For example, more than 25 percent of physicians in the United States are foreign-born. According to the Cato Institute, immigrants make-up approximately one-third of California’s “Essential Workers.” The New American Economy states that nearly 280,000 undocumented immigrants work in healthcare, and 62,600 DACA-eligible individuals are healthcare workers.

“To target H-1B and H-2B workers, and OPT, international students, is a short-sighted path toward limiting American competitiveness and perpetuating the myth that immigrants are a drain on our society,” Peddibhotla told indica. “If we are to regain our economic losses, we need to continue to attract the brightest in the world and to have essential workers that will lift us out of this crisis.”

Last month Trump, announced that because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting unemployment that he was ordering a temporary ban on Green Card seekers from entering the country. The order, however, excludes spouses and minor children of American citizens, as well as foreign investors, health care workers and people with already approved Green Cards. But the order has created fear among immigrant communities.

Charanjit Brahma, president of the South Asian Bar Association told indica (read “Trump’s temporary Green Card ban worrisome for immigrants: SABA President Brahma”  ) previously that he believes it’s political, and the president could impose more restrictions, using the pandemic an excuse.

The senior Republicans senators say in their letter that many businesses have had no choice but to lay “off their employees or shutter altogether, and it is unclear when those businesses that survive will be able to rehire their lost employees.

“Of course, we think all Americans share the hope that our economic recovery will be swift, with Americans returning to work in massive numbers as soon as it is safe to do so. Unfortunately, it will likely take some time for most businesses to begin generating enough revenue.”

The letter continues, “There are millions of high school and college students who, if not for the coronavirus pandemic, would be walking across a graduation stage in front of their families and friends over the next few weeks. Instead of celebrating their hard work, most will be receiving their diplomas in the mail while worrying about whether they will be able to find a job in this market. For many high school graduates and college students, they will spend the next few weeks at home making tough decisions about delaying or foregoing college this fall due to their limited family resources. There is no reason why these young people, especially, should not have access to seasonal, nonagricultural work such as summer resort employment or landscaping before those positions are given to imported foreign labor under the H-2B program.”

“Likewise, there is no reason why unemployed Americans and recent college graduates should have to compete in such a limited job market against an influx of additional I-I-I B workers, most of whom work in business, technology, or STEM fields. Temporarily suspending the issuance of new H- 1B visas would also protect the hundreds of thousands of H-IB workers and their families already working in the United States—workers who could otherwise be subject to deportation if they are laid off for more than 60 days. Of course, appropriate exceptions could also be crafted to the H-IB program suspension to allow for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who wish to come to the United States to assist in combating the coronavirus pandemic.”

“Additionally, the United States ought to suspend its Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows foreign students in {he United States 1.0 extend their stay in the United States alter graduation 1-3 years [o get ‘ ‘experience in [he field” by taking jobs here in the United States.

“In 2019, more than 223,000 Former Foreign students had their OPT applications approved or ext.ended. While the merits of such a program are subject. 1.0 debal.e, there is certainly no reason to allow Foreign students to stay three additional years just to take jobs that would otherwise go to unemployed Americans as our economy recovers.

“The EB-5 program has long been plagued by scandal and fraud, and has been criticized as functioning as a pay-for-citizenship scheme in many cases. There is no reason that the EB-5, program should receive preferential treatment as opposed to other green card programs for employment-based immigrants.

“The coronavirus pandemic has wrought terrible damage on our country, and we will likely continue to experience the economic effects of social distancing and shutdown measures for years to come. We applaud your work to protect public health and limit the spread of the virus in the United States, and to find ways to reopen our economy safely. As we work toward recovery, we urge you to keep the American worker in mind and limit the importation of unnecessary guest workers while American families and businesses get back on their feet.”

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