On Monday, June 22, President Donald Trump signed an executive order halting new visas for foreign workers through the end of the year.
The move suspends H-1B, H-2B, H-4, J and L visas, citing a need to preserve jobs and protect American workers during the economic downturn triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare workers and researchers combating the virus, food processing workers and professors are exempt from the suspensions.
In the order, the president notes that the continued entry of these workers would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States,” and the administration projects that 525,000 American jobs will be saved or created by the executive order, NBC News reports.
However, tech leaders have been critical of the order, saying it takes away an important source of talent. In particular, the H-1B visa program — which grants entry to high-skilled workers, such as chemists and software engineers — served as a useful hiring pathway in years past. The Worldwide ERC also said that the order "imposes unnecessary barriers to economic recovery."
"Now is not the time to cut our nation off from the world’s talent or create uncertainty and anxiety. Immigrants play a vital role at our company and support our country’s critical infrastructure. They are contributing to this country at a time when we need them most," said Microsoft CEO Brad Smith on Twitter.
Even before this executive order, it had been more challenging to obtain an H1-B visa, with denial rates increasing in recent years. Clients we’ve spoken with in the past year have cited these hurdles, and many were adjusting their talent strategies as a result.
Still, occasional visa audits and denials don’t reach the level of an outright suspension, so this order will have a definite impact on businesses that rely on any number of foreign employees. The pandemic has slowed down recruiting and hiring across the board, but if we see things pick up toward the end of 2020, expect the war for talent to become even more fierce within the U.S. If companies can’t tap into a foreign talent pipeline, they’ll have to find people elsewhere.
In “2020 View: How Mobility is Taking Shape Before Our Eyes,” we wrote about these steepening immigration hurdles and noted that for many companies, the response has been a renewed focus on intern programs and young talent within the U.S. Their goal is to stock their talent pipelines early, knowing that the pool is getting smaller farther down the line. As COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease, it’s likely that companies keep up these efforts, as immigration challenges are likely to remain.
For more, check out our report on how mobility can support a world-class intern program. We’ve also got a two-part Relo Tip Tuesday on using a mobility program to attract and retain high-potential talent. It’s going to be increasingly important that you have a strategy to find the right people for your company.
H1B visas for tech workers, H2B visas for low-skill jobs, H4 visas for spouses of certain visa holders and J visas for those participating in work and student exchanges, as well as L visas for intracompany transfers, will all be suspended through Dec. 31. The suspension of those categories is in addition to the halting of visas on April 22 for certain family members of green card holders.