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On Monday, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to suspend the issuance of select temporary worker visas till the end of 2020 i Image Credit: For illustrative purpose only

Dubai: Monday’s suspension of the highly coveted H-1B visas along with other categories of foreign work visas by the US administration until the end of 2020 will impact select categories and only those seeking new visas, experts have clarified.

On Monday, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to suspend the issuance of select temporary worker visas till the end of 2020 in order to crack down on immigration. The order applies to H-1B visas, H-2B visas, H-4 visas, L-1 visas and certain J-1 visas.

Dubai-based Syed Jafar, General Manager, Cosmos Immigration, told Gulf News, “The Trump administration has implemented modifications in the immigration system to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19 and protect the lives and jobs of several Americans. The aim is to ensure that businesses prioritise American workers when hiring.”

Rebecca Bernhard, partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, said the executive order builds on the restrictions the Trump administration implemented in April. The immigration pause announced at the time was applicable only to individuals seeking a permanent residency.

“In addition to extending those earlier restrictions, this new order now curtails the issuance of new work visas for H-1B professional workers, H-2B non-agricultural workers, non-physician J-1 visas, and L-1 intracompany transferees, as well as their dependent family members,” explained Bernhard.

She said, “One large group of foreign workers – and their US employers – can breathe a sigh of relief: those who won this year’s H-1B lottery and who are waiting for their H-1B status to take effect on October 1. The vast majority of these people are not affected by the new executive order, since most people in this situation are already in the US and will not need to travel abroad to obtain a visa.”

Distinction between visa and status

Explaining the distinction between a visa and a status, she said, “A visa is merely an entry document that is stamped into a passport – often called the visa stamp. A visa status is a legal right to be and work in the US. This executive order stops the Department of State from issuing certain new work visas (to enter the US), but it does not cancel or affect the status of foreign workers already in the US.”

Different visa categories explained

According to Bernhard, the different visas are as under:

• H-1B workers hold professional level positions that require specialised education, often working in technology, pharmaceuticals, engineering, and other highly-skilled professions.

• H-2B non-agricultural workers are temporary workers who come to the United States to perform one-off, peak-time, or seasonal work in non-agricultural sectors. Common types of H-2B employment include grounds keeping and housekeeping, as well as meatpacking and other production-oriented activities.

• There are several different types of J-1 visas, which are broadly for people pursuing training of cultural experience of some kind in the US. The executive order stops the issuance of all J-1s except for those going to physicians, medical researchers, or (much more obscurely) secondary school students.

• L-1 visas are used by international companies to transfer managers and executives from their foreign branches or subsidiaries to the U.S.”, Bernhard says.

Who will be affected and who will be exempted?

Jafar said affected categories include H-1B visas which are widely used by tech workers and their families, H-2B visas for non-agricultural seasonal workers, J-1 visas: for cultural exchanges and L-1 visas for managers and other key employees of multinational corporations. He said, “Scholarship recepients who have received scholarships by collaborative efforts of Commonwealth countries are also among those affected.”

Those categories that will not be affected include food processing workers who make up to 15 per cent of H-2B visas, healthcare workers, OPT (Optional Practical Training) for F1 visa students and those seeking non-immigrant visas.

Giving details about the exemptions, Bernhard said, “One key exemption is for workers involved in the US food supply system. This exemption should cover people involved in meatpacking and processing plants, as well as all aspects of the food supply chain from production to transportation and logistics. Another key exemption is for medical personnel working on COVID-19 research or treatment. Most physicians, nurses, and other medical personnel should still be able to obtain visas.”

She said the implementation of the order will be at the level of the individual consular officer working at US embassies and consulates overseas.