President Trump plans restrictions on skilled work visas used by tech and other industries

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President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Kennedy Space Center after the launch of SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Update: President Donald Trump signed the temporary visa ban Monday afternoon and Amazon was quick to rebuke the policy.

President Donald Trump plans to introduce new restrictions on skilled work visas used by the U.S. technology industry to hire international talent.

Trump said during a Fox News interview Sunday that his administration will announce a policy change to the work visa program on Monday or Tuesday that will “make a lot of people very happy.”

The president said his motivation is to help Americans who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic return to work without competition from immigrants. Asked whether any categories of visas will be excluded from the policy, Trump said there will be “very little.”

“In some cases, you have to have exclusions, you need them for big businesses where they have certain people that have been coming in for a long time,” Trump said. “But very little exclusions and they’re pretty tight. And we may go very tight for a period of time.”

Though Trump provided scant details, Bloomberg News reported this month that the government could prohibit skilled work visa holders from entering the U.S. for up to 180 days. Foreign nationals authorized to work in the U.S. under an H-1B visa, for example, could be forced to remain outside of the country until the order expires.

The order could impact hundreds of thousands of workers who received H-1B, H-2B, and L-1 visas in fiscal year 2019.

American tech companies rely heavily on temporary work visas to recruit international talent each year. The U.S. government awarded more H-1B visas for skilled workers to Amazon than any other company in fiscal year 2019.

Amazon received clearance to hire 3,575 workers using the H-1B visa last year. Microsoft received 1,706 approvals, according to data compiled by the National Foundation for American Policy. But the U.S. government is rejecting a higher percentage of H-1B petitions than in years prior. In fiscal year 2019, 21% of applications were rejected, up from 6% in 2015. In total, the government awarded more than 240,000 H-1B, H-2B, and L-1 visas in FY 2019.

In April, Trump signed an executive order banning green card authorizations for 60 days. The moratorium hit immigrants seeking permanent residency in the U.S. on family-based petitions the hardest. Temporary work visas were exempt from the order.

“It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad,” Trump said at the time. “We must first take care of the American worker.”

Doug Rand, co-founder of the Seattle startup Boundless Immigration and a former Obama White House official, said the policy changes “have nothing to do with the state of the economy,” in a statement Monday.

“The Trump administration has been ratcheting up work visa restrictions from the beginning, when unemployment was low,” he said. “The pandemic is just a pretext to continue pursuing an extreme agenda of restriction that most Americans oppose.”

During the Fox News interview this week, Trump also said that his administration will re-file a lawsuit attempting to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to work and study in the country. The Supreme Court last week struck down the administration’s first attempt to rescind the Obama-era policy in a victory for DACA recipients and Microsoft, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

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