Four influential GOP senators call for suspending new H-1B visas, OPT

Senators Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Chuck Grassley and Josh Hawley want new H-1B visas suspended.

Four influential GOP senators have urged President Donald Trump to suspend issuing guest worker visas, including H-1B, and Optional Practical Training for foreign students for at least 60 days.

In a presidential proclamation signed on April 22, Trump had halted issuing green cards to certain nonimmigrants for 60 days, but he left H-1B and other guest worker programs untouched. The president said he was acting in order to protect jobs millions of Americans, whose lives turned upside down in the aftermath of an economic meltdown triggered by Covid-19.

More than 33 million Americans have lost jobs since a nationwide lockdown began two months ago.

On Thursday, in their letter, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and three of his colleagues wrote, “[We] write to urge you to suspend all new guest worker visas for sixty days, and to suspend certain categories of new guest worker visas for at least the next year, or until unemployment has returned to normal levels. These suspensions are critical to protecting American workers as our economy gets back on its feet.

The other signatories are senators Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Josh Hawley, R-Miss. Grassley is a long-time critic of the H-1B visa program.

READ THE LETTER

Two days before issuing the presidential proclamation, Trump had tweeted that he would sign an “Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States.” In the end, he signed a proclamation, not an executive order.

The New York Times reported that Trump wanted to suspend H-1B and other guest worker programs as well, but “backed away” after “business groups exploded in anger at the threat of losing access to foreign labor.”

Some of his supporters were disappointed that Trump didn’t go far enough.

In their letter, the senators urged the president to suspend new guest worker visas for sixty days; suspend “all nonimmigrant guest worker visas for the next sixty days, followed by a continued suspension of new nonimmigrant guest workers for one year or until national unemployment figures return to normal levels;” and suspend the EB-5 investor visa program immediately.

The senators reminded Trump that “more than 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment coverage just since mid-March, and approximately one-fifth of the American workforce is currently out of work.” They wrote, “The United States admits more than one million nonimmigrant guest workers every year, and there is no reason to admit most such workers when our unemployment is so high.”

“Given the extreme lack of available jobs for American job-seekers,” the letter stated, “it defies common sense to admit additional foreign guest workers to compete for such limited employment.”

It said that while the proclamation “is a good step in the right direction,” the guest worker programs, which weren’t stopped, “remain a serious threat to the U.S. labor market’s recovery.”

The letter said exceptions to the suspension “should be rare, limited to time-sensitive industries such as agriculture, and issued only on a case-by-case basis when the employer can demonstrate that they have been unable to find Americans to take the jobs.”

The senators said the “suspension should, at a minimum, include H-2B visas (nonagricultural seasonal workers), H-1B visas (specialty occupation workers), and the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program,” which allows foreign students to work in the United States for at least a year.

The senators said “there is no reason why unemployed Americans and recent college graduates should have to compete in such a limited job market against an influx of additional H-1B workers, most of whom work in business, technology, or STEM fields.”

They also argued that temporarily suspending new H-1B visas could also save the jobs of hundreds of thousands of H-1B workers and their families who are already working in the United States.

Cotton and his colleagues strongly urged Trump to suspend the OPT program. “While the merits of such a program are subject to debate, there is certainly no reason to allow foreign students to stay for three additional years just to take jobs that would otherwise go to unemployed Americans as our economy recovers,” they said.

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