SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KTVU) - Google, Twitter, Apple, Salesforce, Facebook—these are just some of the major tech companies, many based in the Bay Area, that are railing against President Trump's executive order.
The Trump administration on Monday extended a ban on green cards issued outside the United States until the end of the year and added many temporary work visas to the freeze, including those used heavily by technology companies and multinational corporations.
The administration cast the effort as a way to free up jobs in an economy reeling from the coronavirus. A senior official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity predicted it will open up to 525,000 jobs for Americans, a claim that was immediately challenged by critics.
The ban, while temporary, represents a cut to legal immigration on a scale that had eluded the administration before the pandemic. Long-term changes that would prevent many asylum seekers from getting work permits and would allocate high-tech worker visas differently are also being sought.
Business groups pressed hard to limit the changes, but got little of what they wanted, marking a victory for immigration hardliners as Trump seeks to further solidify their support ahead of the November election.
“The Trump administration is using the cover of a global pandemic to slash legal immigration, this would be the biggest cut in a century," said Todd Schulte, the president of FWD.us, a pro-immigration group backed by tech companies. "It’ll make us less likely to recover quickly.”
The ban on new visas, which takes effect Wednesday, applies to H-1B visas, which are widely used by major American and Indian technology companies, H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers, J-1 visas for cultural exchanges and L-1 visas for managers and other key employees of multinational corporations.
There will be exemptions for food processing workers, which make up about 15% of H-2B visas, the official said. Health care workers assisting with the coronavirus fight will continue to be spared from the green-card freeze, though their exemption will be narrower.
"In the administration of our Nation's immigration system, we must remain mindful of the impact of foreign workers on the United States labor market, particularly in the current extraordinary environment of high domestic unemployment and depressed demand for labor," Trump wrote in his presidential proclamation. Immigration attorneys say it will have the opposite effect.
“When you’re not bringing in the specialized workers, then the support staff who are US workers can’t be hired as well," said Donald Smith from Litwin and Smith Immigration Law.
Business and pro-immigration groups are mulling their next move. “I think you’re going to see people come forward and say not only is this the wrong thing to do, but you don’t have the ability to do this the way you’re doing it," said Schulte.
Trump imposed a 60-day ban on green cards issued abroad in April, which was set to expire Monday. That announcement, which largely targeted family members, drew a surprisingly chilly reception from immigration hardliners, who said the president didn't go far enough.
The new steps to include non-immigrant visas went toward appeasing hardliners. Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) wrote this in a statement: “President Trump has repeatedly promised that he would put American workers first, and to his credit, he did just that.”
Thomas J. Donohue, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's chief executive officer, said the measures will harm, not help, the American economy.
"Putting up a `not welcome' sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won't help our country, it will hold us back," he said. "Restrictive changes to our nation's immigration system will push investment and economic activity abroad, slow growth, and reduce job creation."
BSA, a group that represents major software companies, urged the administration to reconsider, particularly changes to the H-1B program, saying they will hinder economic recovery by making it harder to fill critical positions.
"Filling these roles that are more abundant than the number of U.S. employees qualified to fill them means these jobs can be kept in the U.S.," the group said. "This allows companies based in the U.S. to remain globally competitive, which in turn boosts the U.S. economy, creating jobs for millions of Americans."
The freezes on visas issued abroad are designed to take effect immediately. Other changes, including restrictions on work permits for asylum seekers, will go through a formal rule-making process that takes months.
The administration is proposing a new way of awarding H-1B visas, the official said, awarding them by highest salary instead of by lottery.H-1B visas are capped at $85,000 a year for people with "highly specialized knowledge" and minimum of a bachelor's degree, often in science, technology, engineering, teaching and accounting. Critics say high-tech companies have used the visas as a tool to outsource jobs to foreigners, replacing Americans.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS STORY