When President Biden took office in January 2021, pro-immigration advocacy groups encouraged him to immediately reverse former President Trump’s ban on “guest workers” entering the U.S., which was put in place the previous summer. But, perhaps not wishing to anger his allies in organized labor who favored the restrictions, Biden instead let Trump’s ban on the foreign worker visas simply expire, as scheduled, in March 2021. Now that the ban has been lifted, what does that mean for companies and foreign workers?
The History of the Trump-era Worker Visa Ban
President Trump issued an executive order in June 2020 to put restrictions on guest worker visas, as the COVID pandemic was in full swing, under the premise of encouraging economic recovery and helping boost domestic employment. The idea, according to his administration, was to help control COVID, and also to preserve jobs for American workers as unemployment was increasing nationwide.
The ban limited H-1B visas for skilled professional and technology workers and H-4 visas for their spouses, H-2B visas for seasonal workers such as those in landscaping, construction and hospitality, L-1 visas for managers and executives being transferred to the U.S., and J-1 visas for summer interns, trainees, and work-study students.
The ban was supposed to be in effect through December 2020, but President Trump extended it in his last days in office to expire, instead, on March 31, 2021.
Outcomes and Consequences of the Visa Ban
While the guest worker visa ban was meant to encourage American companies to hire American employees during the COVID-caused economic slowdown, what many companies found was that there weren’t enough qualified (or willing) domestic applicants to fill their open positions. For tech companies who hire many H-1B visa-holders, it meant that they had to leave positions unfilled for months, and put some projects on hold. Those companies have found that there simply aren’t enough domestic STEM graduates (and professionals) in the U.S. to meet the hiring demand. Research has shown that the visa ban had the unintended effect of sending these jobs abroad, instead.
Similarly, companies that hire temporary and seasonal workers (affected by the H-2B visa ban), including those in landscaping and tourism, have found that there hasn’t been a rush of domestic applicants for open positions. Many of these companies have seen that native-born job seekers simply don’t want those jobs. And, since there is still a high demand to hire for these jobs, many people are crossing borders illegally, unfortunately, to accept these positions who might otherwise have sought legal means to enter the U.S. to hold these jobs.
Indeed, while the Trump administration insisted at the time that the ban would save over half a million American jobs, most of the layoffs that occurred during the pandemic were in industries that don’t employ many foreign workers who’ve entered the U.S. with a work visa. The ban likely did little to lower American unemployment.
What Happens Now that the Ban Expired?
It still might be awhile before visa processing at U.S. Consulates gets back to normal. Due to so many immigration and visa restrictions put in place during the former presidential administration, there is a backlog of applicants. Still, since President Biden has allowed the visa ban to sunset, and the State Department has taken steps to speed up visa processing, there is hope again when applying for one of these foreign worker visas.
If there are any questions about the recent changes to the regulations regarding foreign worker visas such as H-1B and H-2B visas, please contact The GIG Law Firm.