WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Monday that it was extending a ban on green cards issued outside the United States until the end of the year and adding 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 estimated the restrictions will free up to 525,000 jobs for Americans.
The ban, while temporary, would amount to major restructuring of legal immigration if made permanent, a goal that had eluded the administration before the pandemic. Long-term changes targeting asylum seekers and high-tech workers 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 ban on new visas applies to H-1B visas, which are widely used by major American and Indian technology company workers and their families, 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.
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 a long toward appeasing hardliners.
“This is a bold move by the Trump administration to protect American jobs,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restrictions. “Not all the items on our checklist of needed actions are included in today’s announcement, but the corporate lobbyists who were desperately fighting for exceptions to protect their clients’ access to cheap foreign labor have largely been rebuffed."
BSA, a group that represents major software companies, urged the administration to reconsider its changes, particularly 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."
A pro-immigration group with strong Silicon Valley backing, FWD.us, said the moves “will not only hinder efforts to save lives, but will prevent job creation and hurt our economy as our country struggles to recover.”
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.
Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. was the largest H-1B employer in the 2018 fiscal year, followed by Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., Infosys Ltd., Deloitte Consulting LLP and Microsoft Corp. Other major employers include Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Google and Facebook Inc.
Spagat reported from San Diego.