Created with Sketch.
Blog / Coronavirus / Immigration / Legal Avenues

President Trump’s Visa Ban Impact Worsened by Outdated Immigration Policies

America’s outdated immigration system offers too few paths to permanent residency; as a result, hundreds of thousands of aspiring immigrants live and work on temporary visas for many years, restricting their ability to contribute fully and realize their full potential, and leaving their futures in limbo. President Trump’s new visa ban just made those problems much worse.

Chaos and confusion are mounting as President Trump’s new visa ban has stranded thousands of foreign-born U.S.-based employees and their families overseas. Already grappling with the closure of all overseas consular offices in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, they are now stuck across the world from their jobs, homes, and family (including U.S. citizen children). The visa ban’s impacts will be harmful for American businesses and workers already struggling in a dire economic climate, and will be further worsened by underlying problems in the legal immigration system that only Congress can fix.

While the Administration initially claimed the ban would not impact current visa-holders, the reality has been much different, particularly for H-1B visa holders and their families. These difficulties are particularly infuriating because many of these individuals should have permanent status already, and would be exempt from these bans if not for administrative backlogs that have kept them stuck in limbo with temporary status for years.

“the U.S. does not have specialized pathways to permanent residency for many skilled immigrants like international graduates, entrepreneurs, or physicians

The H-1B Visa is Not Enough

Because the U.S. does not have specialized pathways to permanent residency for many skilled immigrants like international graduates, entrepreneurs, or physicians, these individuals and their families often have to rely on the H-1B visa to secure employment and remain in the country while they pursue permanent residency, which can take many years. This creates a great deal of uncertainty and makes them vulnerable to sudden changes in policy and procedure – exactly what is happening now.

Many aspiring immigrants remain in temporary status because Congress has not made enough green cards available each year. The total number of employment-based green cards issued each year is capped by law at 140,000, of which about 50,000 go to skilled workers themselves; the distribution is limited further so that only 7% can go to individuals from a single country. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of individuals are granted temporary H-1B status (85,000 individuals as part of the “H-1B lottery” alone) each year, but relatively few are allowed to adjust to permanent residency, creating a growing population in temporary status.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there are approximately 592,322 individuals whose employment-based green card petitions have already been approved, and who are just waiting for a visa number to become available. Immigrants from India, who make up the majority of H-1B visa recipients, currently wait an average of eight years for a green card; Indian applicants beginning the process now could end up waiting more than 50 years to receive the green card they qualify for today. Clearly, 140,000 annual green cards is insufficient.

“Widely-supported bipartisan legislation to eliminate the per-country caps passed the House last year, but is still awaiting a vote in the Senate.”

Status Quo Hinders Economy and Puts Immigrants at Risk

Widely-supported bipartisan legislation to eliminate the per-country caps passed the House last year, but is still awaiting a vote in the Senate. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have also proposed expanding legal immigration programs, including establishing a Startup Visa and fast-tracking health care workers’ green cards – but Congress has yet to act on these, either, even as the status quo continues to hinder our economy and prevent the creation of new jobs.

Keeping hundreds of thousands of people stuck indefinitely in temporary status is unfair to the visa holders and restricts long-term residents from fully contributing to the U.S. labor force, such as qualified healthcare workers who were barred from serving on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response – holding them back from helping to save lives – because of their H-1B status. And their futures in America are in constant jeopardy, especially during the pandemic; even before the new proclamation, many nonimmigrant visa holders struggled to maintain their status because of severe agency backlogs and consulate closures.

This uncertainty also makes the United States far less attractive to global talent. In recent years, enrollment rates among international students have fallen while immigrants stuck in the backlog have increasingly explored job opportunities in competing countries like Canada (where the permanent residency process can be as fast as six months), or back in their own home countries.

Congress Must Act, or Problems Will Get Worse

Skilled workers looking around the world have numerous other options – why would they want to deal with this bureaucracy and backlog? The U.S. will find it increasingly difficult to recruit the best and brightest, and to stay competitive on a global level, if individuals who would otherwise choose to contribute their talents here face intense uncertainty around issues such as the timeframe for securing a green card, their potential ability to work after graduating from American colleges and universities, their spouse’s potential ability to work, or how challenging it may be to return from overseas travel.

Rather than sacrificing this valuable competitive advantage, Congress should take action to modernize the legal immigration system, including clearing the backlogs and establishing fair and expedient pathways to permanent residency. This will ensure more immigrants can fully contribute their skills in the workforce, travel freely outside of the country to see family, and invest in their futures here, confident that they can call America home.

Tell the world; share this article via...