WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump issued a proclamation Monday barring many categories of foreign workers and curbing immigration visas through the end of the year, moves the White House said will protect U.S. workers reeling from job losses amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The restrictions will apply to work visas that many companies use, especially in the technology sector, landscaping services and the forestry industry. It excludes agricultural laborers, health-care professionals supporting the pandemic response and food service employees, as well as some other temporary workers.
The restrictions will prevent foreign workers from filling 525,000 jobs, according to the administration’s estimates. The measures will apply only to applicants seeking to come to the United States, not workers who already are on U.S. soil.
“American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy, including against millions of aliens who enter the United States to perform temporary work,” the proclamation states. “Under ordinary circumstances, properly administered temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy. But under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers.”
Critics of the moves say the president is using the public health crisis to carry out the kind of border closures and immigration overhaul he has long extolled, giving him the opportunity to campaign on the measures in his bid for reelection. Trump in recent months has carried out a broad crackdown at the Mexico border and has barred travelers from China and European nations with large coronavirus outbreaks.
Major U.S. businesses broadly panned the president’s proclamation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which had lobbied to soften the limits for months, said Trump adopted a “severe and sweeping attempt to restrict legal immigration” that could hurt the country’s economic recovery amid the pandemic.
“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,” said chamber president Thomas Donohue. “Restrictive changes to our nation’s immigration system will push investment and economic activity abroad, slow growth, and reduce job creation.”
The freeze announced Monday will apply to the H1-B visa category for highly skilled workers, the H4 visa for their spouses and the L visas companies use to transfer international employees into the United States.
Most H2-B visas — for temporary workers who would stay in the United States for up to three years — also will be suspended, the officials said, with exceptions for hospitality and food service employees. The freeze on “cultural exchange” J visas will include exemptions for applicants whose entry is considered to be in the U.S. national interest, a loophole potentially available to the roughly 20,000 people who come to the United States annually as au pairs to provide child care for U.S. families.
Visa processing at U.S. consulates abroad already has plunged. State Department visa statistics show the number of nonimmigrant visas issued each month has dropped more than 90 percent since February. Last month, the United States granted just more than 40,000 nonimmigrant visas — which include visas for tourists and other short-term visitors — down from 670,000 in January, the data shows.
Trump administration officials also said Monday that they would issue new regulations denying work authorization to asylum seekers with pending claims for one year, arguing that the humanitarian program is being exploited by migrants seeking better work opportunities in the United States. Administration officials have not said how asylum applicants will be expected to support themselves financially while they await a court decision.
Trump on April 22 ordered a 60-day freeze on several categories of family- and employment-based immigration visas, and that suspension now been extended through the end of 2020. While U.S. citizens can continue to sponsor spouses and minor children, Trump’s orders will bar most other categories of applicants, affecting more than half of the immigration visas issued in a typical year; last year, about 460,000 immigration visas were issued.
Trump’s orders, which the White House has described as “a pause,” do not apply to immigrants already living and working in the United States nor to permanent residents seeking to become naturalized citizens.
As part of the April 22 decree, Trump directed federal agencies to study the possible impact of additional restrictions on work visas. The new measures will apply to several categories of “J” or “cultural exchange” visas, including foreign camp counselors, summer-school teachers and other short-term workers.
Major businesses for weeks had urged the Trump administration not to adopt additional restrictions on foreign workers, fearing lasting impacts on the labor force at a time when many companies are struggling financially amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump’s move quickly drew sharp rebukes from Apple, Facebook, Google and a wide array of other tech giants, which sounded off through a flurry of Washington-based lobbying groups.
“Today’s executive action stands to upend the ability of U.S. employers — in the tech sector and beyond — to hire the men and women they need to strengthen their workforce, repower the economy, and drive innovation,” said Jason Oxman, president of the Information Technology Industry Council.
TechNet president Linda Moore said the new White House policy would “slow innovation and undermine the work the technology industry is doing to help our country recover from unprecedented events.”
Many tech companies had lobbied for years to convince Trump to spare a raft of immigration programs he has since terminated or tried to limit. They supported lawsuits against the president’s earlier travel bans, for example, and vehemently opposed his effort to end the program known as DACA before the Supreme Court ultimately reversed it last week. Some top Silicon Valley executives, including Apple chief executive Tim Cook, have sought to appeal to Trump directly on immigration.
But the president’s order Monday amounts to a direct shot at the industry, which relies on H-1B visas to employ foreign engineers and H-4 visas to secure authorizations for their spouses. Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.
Trump administration officials have defended the restrictions as a sensible measure to protect U.S. workers amid unemployment levels that are the highest since the Great Depression. The measures will be subject to review and modification every 60 days, according to the proclamation.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll published last month found that 65% of Americans support a temporary halt on nearly all immigration during the pandemic, with 34% opposed. Republicans and independents support such restrictions by a wide margin, the poll found, while Democrats were split.
Mark Krikorian, whose Center for Immigration Studies has urged the Trump administration for years to adopt such restrictions, called Trump’s order “a significant victory over corporate interests.”
Krikorian and others in the GOP who favor such restrictions have long argued that guest worker programs displace U.S. workers and drive down their wages. They have been battling other Republicans for control of the party’s immigration platform.
“This is a victory for the immigration hawks within in the White House,” Krikorian said. “Maybe it took the pandemic to help them overcome the pressure from lobbyists to keep the cheap labor coming.”
For Lauri Jones, the trouble began in early May. The director of a small public health department in Western Washington State was working with a family under quarantine because of coronavirus exposure. When she heard one family member had been out in the community, Jones decided to check in.
The routine phone call launched a nightmare.
“Someone posted on social media that we had violated their civil liberties [and] named me by name,” Jones recalled. “They said, ‘Let’s post her address ... . Let’s start shooting.’ ”
People from across the country began calling her personal phone with similar threats.
“We’ve been doing the same thing in public health on a daily basis forever. But we are now the villains,” said Jones, 64, who called the police and set up surveillance cameras at her home.
Public health workers, already underfunded and understaffed, are confronting waves of protest at their homes and offices in addition to pressure from politicians who favor a faster reopening. Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, said more than 20 health officials have been fired, resigned or have retired in recent weeks “due to conditions related to having to enforce and stand up for strong public health tactics during this pandemic.”
Although shutdown measures are broadly popular, a vocal minority opposes them vociferously. There have been attacks on officials’ race, gender, sexual orientation and appearance. Freeman said some of the criticisms “seem to be harsher for women.”
Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said attacks on health officials have been particularly awful in California, Colorado, Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
This month in California, Nichole Quick, Orange County’s chief health officer, stepped down after she faced threats and protests at her home for requiring face coverings in many businesses as cases rose. The mandate, issued May 23, was softened to a recommendation a week later.
Andrew Noymer, a professor of public health at the University of California at Irvine who is part of a county task force, said it was not the first time Quick had been undermined.
On March 17, Quick issued a strict lockdown order; a day later, it was amended to add exceptions.
“It was couched as a clarification, but it was a walkback,” Noymer said, because of pressure from business leaders.
Quick’s departure is part of an exodus of public health officials across the country who have been blamed by citizens and politicians for the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody resign for the kinds of reasons we’ve seen recently,” Plescia said. “We are very concerned that, if it continues to get worse, it’s going to have major implications for who will be willing to have these jobs.”
Ohio’s public health director, Amy Acton, said she shifted to an advisory role after enduring months of anger against the state’s preventive measures, including armed protesters at her home bearing messages including anti-Semitic and sexist slurs. One Republican lawmaker linked Acton, who is Jewish, to Nazi Germany; another called her a dictator.
Georgia’s public health director said last month that she receives threats daily and now has an armed escort.
Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, who is transgender, has come under fire for the state’s handling of the pandemic, including from a county official who resigned after saying at a recent meeting that he was “tired of listening to a guy dressed up as a woman.”
Four public health officials in Colorado have left their jobs recently.
A day after telling political leaders in Weld County, Colorado, that their insistence on a speedy reopening despite a high case rate and widespread transmission was giving him “serious heartburn,” Public Health Director Mark Wallace got a 7:30 p.m. email: He had until 9 a.m., it said, to weigh in on guidelines for reopening businesses — “churches, salons, restaurants, etc.” They would go public an hour later.
Wallace, who declined to comment for this article, retired soon after.
Theresa Anselmo, executive director of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials, said 80 percent of members had reported being threatened and more than that were at risk of termination or lost funding.
“It’s exhausting to be contradicted and argued with and devalued and demoralized all the time, and I think that’s what you’re seeing around the country,” Anselmo said. “We’ve seen from the top down, the federal government is pitting public health against freedom, and to set up that false dichotomy is really a disservice to the men and women who have dedicated their lives ... to helping people.”
Not everyone has left willingly. In Colorado’s Rio Grande County, Emily Brown was fired, she says, after advocating a more cautious response to the virus.
“I think I just finally pushed too hard,” she said. “There was resistance to taking steps as quickly as I felt they needed to be taken or move in directions I thought we needed to.”
She had been in her position for six years and valued being part of a close-knit rural community. But during the pandemic lockdown, she said, she began getting threatening messages online from people she considered neighbors, including one Facebook post that referenced hanging. She became worried about who she might run into at the grocery store.
“I’ve been surprised at who professes that vitriol so vocally on platforms like social media,” she said.
Derrick Neal, who runs the public health department in Round Rock, Texas, and is past president of the state public health workers’ association, said, given the virus’ effect on daily life, public health was inevitably tied up in politics.
“But a community has to be healthy in order to be economically solvent,” he said. “That’s been lost in the politics of all this.”
Public health workers in California also have been battered publicly by business groups, ordinary citizens and elected officials. Several have resigned.
“Half a dozen county health leaders are leaving their positions in the coming weeks. All of them have served with distinction and in the interest of public health,” California Medical Association President Peter Bretan Jr. said in a statement. “We are deeply concerned that politics may be trumping public interest.”
After Los Angeles County health official Barbara Ferrer held a news conference on May 13 saying some stay-at-home restrictions might remain in place for three more months, a doctored photo of her with dark circles under her eyes made its way across social media. One tweet, liked or retweeted more than 100,000 times, called her “the most unhealthy looking person I have ever seen.”
In a full-page ad in the local newspaper, a business council accused Santa Clara County’s public health officer, Sara Cody, of “cratering our economy” for being the first in the nation to impose a shelter-in-place order. The local sheriff is now investigating threats against her.
People in the field worry that many of these vacant positions will be difficult to fill.
“This is the beginning of a wave of people leaving,” Anselmo said. “Who would want to go work as a director in a public health department when you have a target on your back?”
Current Capital High Assistant Principal Jaclyn Swayne will be the new principal of St. Albans High, and current South Charleston Middle Assistant Principal Abby Stevens-Siggers will lead Dunbar Middle.
The Kanawha County Board of Education voted last week to pick these two women for the upcoming school year. The school board has posted the assistant principal positions they are leaving for applicants, according to the school system.
Board members also:
and installation of it in 84 special-
All votes last week were 5-0, except for a 4-0 vote on the insurance coverage because board President Ryan White recused himself.
His father, attorney and former state Democratic Party co-chairman Steve White, is on Encova’s board.
Despite an upward trend in COVID-19 cases and infection rates in the state, Gov. Jim Justice said again Monday that he is not prepared to institute additional measures to curtail the spread of the virus, including mandating wearing face masks in public settings.
“Nobody wants to get into the situation where you make the wearing of masks mandatory,” Justice said during his daily COVID-19 briefing. “We’re going to divide people.”
Justice’s statement comes following a two-week period when new COVID-19 cases in the state increased 28% and as the state’s infection rate, or R-naught, climbed above the threshold of 1.0% on Monday to 1.05%. That means one infected individual will infect at least one other person.
That includes 68 active cases involving congregations at three churches in three counties, and 49 cases in six counties involving residents returning from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, vacations.
“There’s got to be more, but this is enough to cause us a big-time problem in West Virginia,” Justice said. “If you’ve gone to Myrtle Beach, we want you tested.”
Justice also discouraged out-of-state vacations, stating, “If you don’t need to travel out of state, why do it?”
Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president of health sciences at West Virginia University, said Monday that West Virginia is mirroring trends in other states as officials authorize more and more businesses and activities to reopen following stay-at-home orders in parts of March and April.
Marsh said 12 states had record-high numbers of COVID-19 cases over the weekend, while 17 states saw increases in hospitalizations. Meanwhile, West Virginia’s infection rate crossed the 1.0 threshold, he said.
“It should be a good reminder to us we are not immune from the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
Marsh again called on residents to wear face masks and maintain social distancing when in public.
Justice also called on West Virginians to wear face coverings but said he will mandate masks, along with rollbacks of reopening measures, only if the spread of coronavirus gets worse.
“When it gets iffy, when people get concerned, I’m going to act. I’m not going to wait,” said Justice, who has said mandating the wearing of face masks — which Marsh and other health care experts have said is the most effective way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus — would be “divisive.”
Nationally, the wearing of masks has become a political and cultural touchstone, with many Republicans and conservatives — including President Donald Trump — eschewing face masks as being government overreach or a sign of weakness.
On Friday, Marsh indicated that, if West Virginia could reach 80% compliance with mask wearing, it would have the equivalent effect of having a coronavirus vaccine or effective treatment for the virus in curbing the spread of COVID-19.