The battle in the White House on immigration | Opinion
Look hard and you will find an unwavering determination of this administration — or that of some senior staffers, even if not necessarily backed by Trump — to curb, curtail or kill the H-1B short-term non-immigrant visa programmeUpdated: Apr 24, 2020, 19:22 IST
United States (US) President Donald Trump ordered the temporary suspension of all immigration to the US to protect American jobs for Americans hit by layoffs that have spiked to levels not seen since the Great Depression of 1929. It is now up to 26.4 million.
But look harder and you will find an unwavering determination of this administration — or that of some senior staffers, even if not necessarily backed by Trump — to curb, curtail or kill the H-1B short-term non-immigrant visa programme. This was started to enable US firms to hire foreigners, to make up for the shortage of highly-skilled workers locally. Also in the crosshairs is the other non-immigrant work visa, H-2B, for farmworkers.
Both are currently exempt from the 60-day suspension. And the reaction in the echo chamber has been instructive. Tucker Carlson, a Fox News anchor, while mentioning H-1B and H-2Bs, vented on air, “That’s an awful lot of exceptions.” Ann Coulter, a leading conservative columnist, added it to her list of disappointments with Trump. Breitbart News, which is extremely close to the Trump White House, griped that an earlier draft of the final order was “much more expansive”. Indeed, it was. Breitbart News later reported that the earlier draft proposed suspending non-immigrant work visas H-1B and H-2B. So, what happened? Who or what stopped the president?
Not clear, yet. No one was named. But there are clear factions in the White House on immigration. Senior adviser Stephen Miller is the leading hawk and is seen as the man behind every extreme order on immigration or action, from the Muslim travel ban and family separation to denying green cards to applicants who took government benefits. He has strong views against H-1B visa programme, and once named Indian companies that he suspected of gaming the H-1B programme. On the other side are the moderates, a small but perhaps the most powerful faction in this White House; the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, who are both officially senior advisers to the president. It was not immediately known if this dynamic killed the draft.The US president’s own views on H-1B have been somewhat ambivalent. He has acknowledged using the programme in his businesses before becoming president, but has also contended that the programme has been abused and has ordered its reform to, among other things, conform to his overarching “Buy American, Hire American” vision. But a nip here and a tuck there will not satisfy critics of the programme, who are now using the coronavirus epidemic to call for expanded action.
The executive order signed by Trump provides for “additional measures” to deal with worsening unemployment; non-immigrant visas. H-1B, H-2B and other non-immigrant visas could find themselves stripped of their current exemption. There is an additional issue. Temporary suspensions are not always temporary — the ban on travellers from certain Muslim-majority countries that was first ordered in January 2017 for 90 days remains in force three years hence, morphing through several iterations.