Suspension of work and trainee visas due to COVID-19
On June 22, 2020, President Trump signed a Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak. It went into effect at 12:01am on June 24, and is valid until December 31, 2020, with review and recommendations for modifications due within 30 days and every 60 days thereafter.
The proclamation also extends the suspension of entry of some immigrants announced on April 22, effective immediately.
Suspends entry of the following individuals and their accompanying family members who are outside the U.S., don’t have a valid nonimmigrant visa, and don’t have an official travel document as of the effective date:
- H-1B visa holders (highly trained professionals in “specialty occupations” often focused on engineering, technology, and medical sciences);
- H-2B visa holders (seasonal non-agricultural workers);
- J visa holders who are interns, trainees, teachers, camp counselors, au pairs, or participating in a summer work travel program; and
- L visa holders (intra-company transfers).
Exempts the following individuals, who can still enter the U.S.:
- Current lawful permanent residents (green card holders);
- Spouses and children of a U.S, citizen;
- Anyone seeking to enter to provide temporary services essential to the U.S. food supply chain;
- Anyone whose entry would be in the “national interest,” to be defined further and to include individuals:
- critical to the defense, law enforcement, diplomacy or national security of the U.S.
- providing medical care to COVID-19 hospitalized patients or involved in medical research at U.S. facilities to help combat COVID-19
- necessary to facilitate the immediate and continued economic recovery of the U.S.
- who are children and would age out of visa eligibility under this proclamation or the April proclamation.
Those who try to evade the ban through fraud or illegal entry, the proclamation says, will be prioritized for deportation.
The proclamation includes additional provisions designed to make it harder to enter the U.S.
- The Secretary of Health and Human Services is to provide guidance for implementing measures to reduce the risk that those seeking entry may introduce COVID-19;
- The Secretary of Labor is to issue regulations or take other actions to make sure those who have been admitted or are seeking entry through EB-2, EB-3 or H-1B programs don’t “disadvantage U.S. workers” and investigate any possible violations in the labor certification process.;
- The Secretary of Homeland Security is to ensure that:
- Individuals can’t apply for a visa or admission until they have provided biographical and biometric information including photo, signature and fingerprints;
- To the extent permitted by law, those with final orders of removal, who are subject to removal, or have been charged or convicted of a crime, are not able to work in the U.S.;
- Regulations are issued or other actions are taken with regard to the allocation of H-1B visas so that the presence of H-1B nonimmigrants don’t disadvantage U.S. workers.
Impact on Massachusetts
Science, technology and engineering are some of the greatest strengths of the Massachusetts economy, and these sectors are heavy users of the H-1B program. A 2018 study found the Boston metro area ranked fourth in the U.S. in total H-1B approvals, 38,300 in fiscal 2010–2016. The Boston metro area ranked eighth for H-1B approvals per 100 workers, at 1.48 per 100. Though the total number of L visas is far smaller, they are also important for companies with international operations.
H-2B visas enable employers to fill temporary (seasonal) jobs in which there are labor shortages; the most common occupations are landscaping and groundskeeping; seasonal hospitality jobs, from hotel maids, to recreation park staff, are also filled by H-2B visa holders. In Massachusetts, 3,783 H-2B visas were issued in 2019.
Some J-visa holders take some seasonal jobs as well, e.g. as camp counselors. Many more are drawn to Massachusetts’ world-renowned educational institutions and cutting-edge companies, coming here to study, for advanced training, as guest scholars, and for internships. Some support themselves by working as au pairs. In 2019, Massachusetts welcomed 20,441 J-visa holders.