The visa freeze impacts two classes of visa widely used in U.S. high-tech industries, where employment remains relatively robust.
Businesses that count on temporary workers from the federal VISA program face uncertainty after President Donald Trump issued a proclamation June 22 changing the rules for many classes of visa for the rest of this year.
The president said that allowing foreign nationals to seek permission to work in the United States would “present a risk to the U.S. labor market.”
The visa freeze impacts two classes of visa widely used in U.S. high-tech industries, where employment remains relatively robust. According to Eli Maroko of the Southfield-based law firm Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, blocking these visas, H-1B and L-1, is largely symbolic, not an effective way to protect jobs.
H-1B visas apply to highly educated professionals with specialty occupations. Most of the applicants, Maroko said, “are already here, typically having recently either completed their university degrees or a post-degree training period.” Even for those now abroad, “[the] start date for work would be pushed back only from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1, just three months,” he added.
L-1 visas apply to time-limited transfers within multi-national companies. Stopping corporate transfers, Maroko observed, “seems likely to have the effect of disrupting planning without benefitting anyone and without improving hiring.”
Joe Marton, who provides relocation services at German-based Daimler, agrees: “We bring specialized engineers and experts to the U.S. to help with the company’s projects,” he said.
Marton said the company can find Americans for only a small percentage of those specialized roles. For “all the other tasks, if we could not bring the right person here, we would have to send someone from America to work with the right person at another hub.”
Two other visa programs frozen by the president typically provide U.S. firms with less specialized workers, often in lower economic professions.
Ruby Robinson, managing attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, provides legal assistance to low-income and vulnerable non-citizens in Michigan with temporary work positions.
Robinson sees the freeze as ominous in the context of initiatives to limit legal immigration, to refuse refugee status and to rescind protection for residents brought to the U.S. as children.
“The systematic dismantling, reinterpretation and weaponization of immigration laws over these past few years accomplishes and furthers these racist goals of reducing brown and Black immigration at all levels,” he said.
The visa freeze also promises to impact corporate relocation services, a huge industry. When a corporation brings a foreign worker to the United States, it calls on a network of professionals to handle the details.
Eve Avadenka of Huntington Woods, who has worked in this industry for more than 20 years, said Fortune 500 companies hire a relocation management company to subcontract every aspect of the move. That company then hires a destination services company, like Dwellworks, where she is a director.
“At the destination point, a foreign citizen needs a home, a Social Security number, a school placement for the children and similar arrangements … a driver’s license, a bank account and orientation to the local area to better understand the local culture, how/where to shop, the medical system, how to connect to the community and so forth,” she said.
The coronavirus has already slowed the relocation industry; the proclamation may impede the industry’s recovery, she added.
“The USA has been a world leader in innovation, in drawing talent from around the world and at home, and in synthesizing new ideas,” Maroko said. “This success [has] been fed by immigration policies that allowed creative, highly educated people and entrepreneurs globally to bring their talents and energies to benefit the U.S.”
Steve Tobocman, executive director of Global Detroit, has long maintained that increasing immigration is key to the economic health of Michigan.
Tobocman said that “this proclamation will have a real and negative impact on local economy and jobs.”
The issue does not stop at the economy for Tobocman.
“Jewish people need to care for and address issues of justice and equity for all people, not just Jewish people,” he said. “As the grandson of Morris and Anna Tobocman, who fled in the decade before the U.S. restricted immigration from other Jews, I consider a critical part of my Jewish identity to work on building a more welcoming and inclusive America.”
Robinson agreed. “Freezing the issuance of visas on such a broad scale offends not only our Jewish history and tradition, but also our imperative to pursue justice (tzedek tzedek tirdof) as many of these individuals are coming to the United States to learn and help their communities across the globe when they return.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article reported that the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center helps employers obtain immigrant visas. In fact, the MIRC only aids workers.