President Trump’s immigration ban in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to affect most aspects of the H1-B visa program. The ban starts with sweeping language about the inadequacies of the U.S. immigration system, and specifically, how it fails to address the displacement of U.S. workers by immigrants. However, the ban also includes significant carveouts in the fine print, which largely shields H1-B visa holders.
H1-B Visa Basics
The H1-B is a non-immigrant visa that grants temporary employment in the U.S. for international students who earn degrees in the United States or for other foreign nationals who cannot otherwise work in the United States. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) currently allows about 65,000 H1-B applications for new positions that require a bachelor’s degree and another 20,000 on top of that for positions that require a master’s degree or more. Typical H1-B jobs are financial planners, software engineers, programmers, nurses, and doctors.
The Immigration Ban
The immigration ban primarily affects those seeking green cards. Therefore, it affects mostly those residing abroad who are trying to gain permanent residency in the United States. Its most significant impact is on family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are trying to bring to the U.S. It also affects immigrants coming to the U.S. as asylum seekers and refugees. The ban was set for 60 days. However, 60 days often mean the difference between accepted and rejected applications because the ban did not stop the deadlines for these applications.
Immigrant Ban Carveouts
President Trump signed the ban on April 22, 2020; therefore, it will expire around the end of June. However, the President may extend or modify the immigration ban by that date. The ban also targets mostly applicants for green cards. The ban does not affect those already residing in the U.S. or holders of non-resident visas such as H1-Bs. Furthermore, the ban specifically researchers studying COVID-19 as well as immigrant doctors and nurses.
COVID-19 Effects on Visa Processing
However, even without the ban, the pandemic is resulting in substantial delays in processing visa applications. According to the USCIS, the agency is delaying when it will update the 2021 cap. This delay may significantly impact businesses and H1-B visa applicants. Indeed, under the Trump Administration, denial rates of H1-B petitions for initial employment rose even though a record number of petitions were filed for the 2020-2021 period.