Trump administration hits foreign professionals and students


Frank Islam
ON 22 June, President Donald Trump issued an executive order suspending the entry of a number of non-immigrant work visa holders into the US till the end of the year. The visa categories affected by the executive order include, most notably, H-1B, which has been used by more than a million Indian IT professionals and tens of thousands of Pakistani doctors since the 1990s and the L-1 visa used by US companies to bring in workers from their Indian offices.
On 6 July, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took a step further when it announced a new regulation on non-immigrant student visa holders requiring them to take in person classes only and to leave the country if they do not. These visas permit students to participate in Optional Practical Training (OPT) which allows them to take jobs and stay in the US for up to three years after graduating from college.
It is estimated that during the 2018-2019 academic year, over 200,000 international students participated in OPT. This explains why pre-eminent higher education institutions such as Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins have brought a lawsuit against the ICE regulation. And, seventeen states have sued to block this regulation because of the negative effect it would have on the higher education institutions and communities within their boundaries. There were two primary reasons Trump didn’t act on the visa Programme until now. The US economy had been doing very well until Coronavirus hit the American shores early this year. And, the tech industry, which employs three-fourths of the H-1B visa holders, had been doing even better.
The second reason is the formidable lobbying power of the U.S. technology industry. The four most valuable companies in the world, Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft, and Facebook have historically used the H-1B workforce to augment their profits. They were not going to let those go without a fight. This is the case in spite of the fact that study after study has documented that the visa programme actually helps create jobs. For example, the Association of International Educators (NAFSA) economic analysis says international students contributed $41 billion and supported 458,290 jobs in the US during the 2018-2019 academic year. It should be noted that the H-1Border mainly impacts petitioners who are outside of the US who have not gotten their visas stamped on their passports yet. As a result, it will have little effect in the short term on those seeking work in the US.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Service issues roughly 85,000 new H-1B visas annually of which 20,000 are for those with US master’s degrees. Most petitioners in this category are already in the US and they will not have any problem in starting their jobs in October, typically the time new visa holders enter the work force. It is an irony that, while Trump is trying to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US, his non-immigrant worker visa policy and ICE’s student visa regulation could force more high-paying service jobs offshore. What makes it doubly ironic is that this action which Trump has taken to try to save his job as President will not do so. Given the current state of affairs, it is likely that on election day 4 Nov, the American people will fire Donald Trump. After that, decision on what to do with information technology visas in 2021 and going forward will be in someone else’s hands. And, Trump will have to find a new place of employment for himself.
The good news is that Joe Biden has already stated that his Administration will lift the H-1B ban. As far as the issue of foreign students is concerned, the Democrats’ approach is evident from a tweet of Senator Bernie Sanders: “Foreign students are being threatened with a choice: risk your life going to class in-person or get deported. We must stand up to Trump’s bigotry. We must keep all our students safe.” These are trying and transitional times for professionals and students from countries outside the United State. In 2021 with a new administration in Washington, DC the times will get better for them and for America as well.
—The writer is an Entrepreneur, Civic Leader, and Thought Leader based in Washington DC.

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