Trump signs executive order suspending certain work visas through 2020… what you need to know

As you know, today President Trump signed an executive order to suspend the issuance of certain temporary worker visas through the end of 2020, cracking down further on immigration. The order applies to H-1B visas, H-2B visas, H-4 visas, L-1 visas and certain J-1 visas.

Rebecca Bernhard is a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney in both its immigration and labor and employment practices. She has read the proclamation and of it says,

“Today’s executive order builds on the restrictions the Trump Administration implemented in April. In addition to extending those earlier restrictions, this new order now curtails the issuance of new work visas for H-1B professional workers, H-2B non-agricultural workers, non-physician J-1 visas, and L-1 intracompany transferees, as well as their dependent family members,” Bernhard says.

About the visas:

  • H-1B workers hold professional level positions that require specialized education, often working in technology, pharmaceuticals, engineering, and other highly-skilled professions.
  • H-2B non-agricultural workers are temporary workers who come to the United States to perform one-off, peak-time, or seasonal work in non-agricultural sectors. Common types of H-2B employment include grounds keeping and housekeeping, as well as meatpacking and other production-oriented activities.
  • There are several different types of J-1 visas, which are broadly for people pursuing training of cultural experience of some kind in the United States. The executive order stops the issuance of all J-1s except for those going to physicians, medical researchers, or (much more obscurely) secondary school students.
  • L-1 visas are used international companies to transfer managers and executives from their foreign branches or subsidiaries to the U.S.”, Bernhard says.

“One thing that is often lost in these discussions is the distinction between a visa and a status. A visa is merely an entry document that is stamped into a passport – often called the visa stamp. A visa status is a legal right to be and work in the United States. This executive order stops the Department of State from issuing certain new work visas (to enter the US), but it does not cancel or affect the status of foreign workers already in the United States,” Bernhard says.

“One large group of foreign workers – and their U.S. employers – can breathe a sigh of relief: those who won this year’s H-1B lottery and who are waiting for their H-1B status to take effect on October 1. The vast majority of these people are not affected the new executive order, since most people in this situation are already in the United States and will not need to travel abroad to obtain a visa,” Bernhard says.

“The order contains several exemptions worth discussing. One key exemption is for workers involved in the U.S. food supply system. This exemption should cover people involved in meatpacking and processing plants, as well as all aspects of the food supply chain from production to transportation and logistics,” Bernhard says.

“Another key exemption is for medical personnel working on COVID-19 research or treatment. Most physicians, nurses, and other medical personnel should still be able to obtain visas,” Bernhard says.

“The implementation of the order will be at the level of the individual consular officer working at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas. These U.S. diplomats specialize in visa issues and are in charge of deciding whether to issue visas to individual applicants. Because of this dynamic, and the numerous exemptions outlined in the order, it is likely there will be a significant amount of discretion on who gets a visa,” Bernhard says.

“The order hints at more immigration restrictions to come, although additional restrictions will not likely be issued through an executive order. Further policy is likely to be issued through the federal rulemaking process which could take several months. President Trump has made it clear that he sees restricting immigration as a key campaign issue, so it is likely that as the election draws closer we will see further action on these issues,” Bernhard says.

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