Key Takeaways

  • Trump freezes working visas through end of 2020, citing COVID
  • No new Green Cards will be issued
  • Food supply workers are exempted
  • Tech firms decry order

Yesterday U.S. President Trump signed an executive order freezing the distribution of visas for temporary workers, including the H-1B, H-2B, J and L, and their families through the end of the year. "Under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers," said the order. Workers participating in the food supply chain are exempted. There will be no new green cards granted this year either.

The statistics reveal quite clearly whom this order will impact the most in corporate America. In the 2019 fiscal year, 66.1% of the number of H-1B petitions approved were for workers in computer-related occupations, mainly systems analysis and programming. Over 60% were between the ages of 25 and 34, and the median salary was $98,000. 71.7% were born in India and 13% in China.

The chart below shows the companies with the highest number of new H-1B visa approvals in the 2019 fiscal year. Those with the highest number of H-1B visa renewals (visa extensions after expiry) that year were Cognizant Technology Solutions (11,783), Tata Consultancy Services (5,859), Deloitte Consulting (4,293), Amazon (4,186), Microsoft (3,560), Google (3,333), Infosys (2,895) and Capgemini America (2,727). 

H-1B
Source: USCIS.

Employees with approved visas for fiscal year 2021 starting in October will be affected by the rule, say immigration lawyers. It's unclear at the moment what will happen to renewal applications for those in the U.S. currently.

NASSCOM, the Indian IT trade association, and the Internet Association, which counts Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Uber among its members, released statements condemning the move. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Microsoft President Brad Smith disagreed with the decision on Twitter as well. 

The executive order will also make U.S. universities relying on international students for higher fees nervous. The uncertainty in the U.S. surrounding the possibility of staying long term makes other destinations look better. Toronto, for example, was the fastest growing tech jobs market in North America in 2017. It added more jobs than San Francisco’s Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, D.C, according to CBRE Group. Canada's revamped immigration policy makes it relatively easier for workers with advanced degrees to settle in the country.