President Trump signed an executive order this week to suspend the issuance of certain temporary worker visas through the end of 2020. The order applies to H-1B visas, H-2B visas, H-4 visas, L-1 visas and certain J-1 visas.
The order builds upon the restrictions the Trump administration implemented in April, according to Rebecca Bernhard, a partner in the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney. Bernhard practices in immigration, labor and employment areas.
"In addition to extending those earlier restrictions, this new order now curtails the issuance of new work visas for H-1B professional workers, H-2B non-agricultural workers, non-physician J-1 visas, and L-1 intracompany transferees, as well as their dependent family members," Bernhard said.
About the visas:
- H-1B workers hold professional level positions that require specialized education, often working in technology, pharmaceuticals and engineering.
- H-2B non-agricultural workers are temporary workers who come to the United States to perform peak or seasonal work in non-agricultural sectors. Common types of H-2B employment include grounds keeping and housekeeping, as well as meatpacking.
- There are several different types of J-1 visas, which are broadly for people pursuing training of cultural experience of some kind in the United States. The executive order stops the issuance of all J-1s except for those going to physicians, medical researchers, or secondary school students.
- L-1 visas are used by international companies to transfer managers and executives from their foreign branches or subsidiaries to the U.S.
"One thing that is often lost in these discussions is the distinction between a visa and a status," Bernhard said. "A visa is merely an entry document that is stamped into a passport – often called the visa stamp. A visa status is a legal right to be and work in the United States. This executive order stops the Department of State from issuing certain new work visas (to enter the U.S.), but it does not cancel or affect the status of foreign workers already in the United States."
"One large group of foreign workers – and their U.S. employers – can breathe a sigh of relief: those who won this year’s H-1B lottery and who are waiting for their H-1B status to take effect on Oct. 1. The vast majority of these people are not affected by the new executive order, since most people in this situation are already in the United States and will not need to travel abroad to obtain a visa," Bernhard added.
The order does contain exemptions, including one for workers involved in food production.
"This exemption should cover people involved in meatpacking and processing plants, as well as all aspects of the food supply chain from production to transportation and logistics," Bernhard said.
Another exemption applies to medical personnel working on COVID-19 research or treatment. These individuals should still be able to obtain visas, she said.
"The implementation of the order will be at the level of the individual consular officer working at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas," Bernhard said. "These U.S. diplomats specialize in visa issues and are in charge of deciding whether to issue visas to individual applicants. Because of this dynamic, and the numerous exemptions outlined in the order, it is likely there will be a significant amount of discretion on who gets a visa."