Trump Administration Issues Executive Order Suspending Certain Work Visas
Trump Administration Issues Executive Order Suspending Certain Work Visas

June  2020

On June 22, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that suspends certain work visas for skilled foreign workers through December 31. The order does not impact current visa or green card holders, but limits new foreign workers from entering the United States. The administration is justifying the order by pointing to high unemployment figures in the United States brought on by mitigation efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The executive order suspends issuing new visas under the H-1B program, which provides visas for skilled workers, including in higher education, and J-1 visas for interns, trainees, teachers, camp counselors, au pairs, and participants in summer work-travel programs, but exempting college and university students, research scholars, and professors. It effectively extends an April 22 proclamation restricting immigration of foreign workers, which was in effect for 60 days.

“The ability of the United States to attract and retain highly motivated and highly skilled individuals from around the world has been crucial to its technological, scientific, medical, and economic successes,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine.  “Even though the administration’s executive order did not go as far as many feared, it still places unnecessary and counterproductive limits on the flow of talented international scholars at our universities and other research centers.” 

As noted in an Inside Higher Ed article on the order, there was concern that the proclamation would also limit the optional practical training (OPT) program, which enables international students to work in the United States for up to three years after completing their degree. While the order does not address the OPT program, there is a possibility that a separate regulatory action by the Trump administration may restrict the use of the OPT program to reduce immigration. 

As part of efforts to respond to the April executive order and amid rumors of another forthcoming order, AERA joined a May 20 multisociety letter to the Trump administration that urged the prioritization of the immigration of science and technology talent to spur scientific breakthroughs and economic growth needed in the United States for rapid recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.