WASHINGTON, June 24: US President Donald Trump will prolong a ban on US employment permits to Dec 2020 and broaden it to include H-1B visas used widely in the tech industry.
White House senior administration official told journalists the move would affect 525,000 jobs in the US, which is currently reeling from a high unemployment rate caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump had repeatedly touted a strong economy, but now finds himself desperate for a political boost ahead of the November election.
The executive order, signed on Monday afternoon, will extend and widen the 60-day freeze Trump placed on new work permits for non-US citizens two months ago.
The administration official said the new order would extend to the end of 2020 and include H-1B visas provided to 85,000 workers each year with special skills, many of them joining the US technology industry.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai — whose company has been a leading beneficiary of the H1-B visa system , said he was “disappointed” by the announcement. “Immigration has contributed immensely to America’s economic success, making it a global leader in tech,” he wrote on Twitter.
The move comes as Trump feuds with Silicon Valley after tech titans Twitter and Snapchat censored or hid posts by the president they claimed incited violence or were misleading.
Last month Trump signed an order seeking to strip social media giants of legal immunity for content on their platforms in a move slammed by his critics as a legally dubious act of political revenge.
The official also stressed the H-1B visa freeze was temporary while the programme is restructured, shifting from an annual lottery that feeds coders and other specialists to Silicon Valley to a system that gives priority to those foreign workers with the most value.
Trump “is going to prioritise those workers who are offered the highest wages,” as an indicator that they can add more value to the US economy, the official said.
“It will eliminate competition with American in these industries at the entry level, and will do more to get the best and the brightest.” The move also freezes most H-2B visas used each year for about 66,000 short-term, low-skilled jobs in landscaping, food and hospitality industries and H-4 visas, which allow spouses of other visa holders to work.
In addition, the official said the government is issuing new regulations that will make it much harder for tens of thousands of asylum seekers waiting for their court hearings to work legally.