Trump extends freeze on work visas to protect US jobs during pandemic

On Thursday, President Donald Trump extended restrictions on some immigrant and work visas through March 31 in an effort to protect the U.S. job market amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The restrictions apply to “H-1B visas, H-2B visas, H-4 visas, L-1 visas and certain J-1 visas,” according to The Hill.

The bans were originally imposed in April 2020. Trump extended them in June 2020, and they were set to expire on December 31.

COVID-19 ravages job market

In a proclamation issued on Thursday, Trump said that the pandemic “continues to significantly disrupt Americans’ livelihoods.”

“While the November overall unemployment rate in the United States of 6.7 percent reflects a marked decline from its April high, there were still 9,834,000 fewer seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs in November than in February of 2020,” the proclamation reads.

Pre-pandemic, the unemployment levels had been hovering at record lows around 3.5% — evidence of the booming Trump economy. But just two months later, unemployment hit a record high of 14.7% nationally as much of the country locked down to “slow the spread” of the coronavirus.

In the original April proclamation, Trump explained, “Excess labor supply affects all workers and potential workers, but it is particularly harmful to workers at the margin between employment and unemployment, who are typically ‘last in’ during an economic expansion and ‘first out’ during an economic contraction,” and noted that those workers tend to be “disproportionately represented by historically disadvantaged groups.”

The re-issued restrictions will be in effect until March 31 unless Democrat Joe Biden decides to reverse them as president. Biden is expected to take office on January 20th, although Trump and allies are still fighting a long-shot campaign to overturn the official election results.

According to Reuters, Biden “has criticized the restrictions, but has not yet said whether he would immediately reverse them.”

Trump targets H1-B program

Trump has long sought to change the H1-B visa program, which he contends is exploited by corporations who prefer to import skilled labor at lower wages rather than hire Americans.

Big Tech, however, has reliably pushed back on various attempts to restrict the program, alleging that there are more jobs for high-skilled tech workers than there are Americans to fill them.

The Trump administration announced new plans to tighten the requirements for H1-B visa applicants in October, along with raising the minimum wage for H1-B visa holders. However, a judge threw out the new rules in December in response to a lawsuit from business groups, saying that the administration did not allow enough time for public comment.

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