President Trump is facing a fast approaching deadline to extend an executive order he imposed earlier this year suspending various temporary work visas amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump is under pressure from some corners to extend the order into 2021, which would put pressure on the incoming Biden administration over whether to quickly rescind it. The president’s advisers are said to be split over whether Trump should act, according to sources familiar with discussions.
Trump in June signed an executive order suspending the issuance of H-1B visas, H-2B visas, H-4 visas, L-1 visas and certain J-1 visas. The moratorium on new visas is in place through Dec. 31, meaning Trump has until Thursday to extend it or let it lapse.
Proponents of extending the visa suspensions argue the pandemic is ongoing, and some on Trump’s team believe it would create a potential political headache for President-elect Joe Biden out of the gate. Trump may also be inclined to push through a few final policy measures before Biden takes office.
Neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to requests for comment.
The Trump administration initially justified the suspension by claiming it would free up jobs for Americans who were out of work due to the pandemic. But immigration had largely been closed off due to travel restrictions already, and many companies have said certain jobs that existed pre-pandemic will not be filled again.
Some conservative groups have pressured the Trump administration in recent days to extend the visa suspensions, however, arguing the economy has yet to fully recover from the pandemic.
Since Thanksgiving, unemployment claims have risen again above 800,000 as the number of coronavirus cases spiked, setting new daily records for infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.
“Given that we are still in the midst of the worst economic crisis in living memory, extending the proclamation well into 2021 should be an easy decision,” said RJ Hauman, head of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which sent Trump a letter advocating for an extension.
“The question then becomes this: will President-elect Biden immediately side with powerful business interests that continue to demand more cheap foreign labor?” Hauman said. “Or will he realize that high levels of immigration and guest worker admissions are an impediment to American workers recovering along with the economy?”
Biden has pledged to undo much of Trump’s immigration agenda. He has committed to “immediately” reverse Trump’s travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries; reverse policies that separate parents from their children at the border; and order a review of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program.
The president-elect has also vowed to restore refugee admissions to pre-Trump administration levels and reform the visa system.
The Biden transition did not respond to a request for comment about whether he would rescind an extended suspension of temporary visas.
Should Trump extend his order, it would not sit well with business groups and even some Republican lawmakers who expressed disapproval when it was first announced in June.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers filed a lawsuit at the time, arguing that the U.S. has benefited from temporary worker visa holders and that the order would discourage qualified workers from coming to the U.S.
“Banning critical and skilled workers from entering the country was a mistake, and it disrupted manufacturers’ fight against COVID-19 at exactly the wrong time,” Linda Kelly, the National Association of Manufacturers’ senior vice president and general counsel, said in a statement on Monday.
“Manufacturers’ legal case halted the ban and ensured we could continue leading our pandemic response and economic recovery,” she added. “Any effort to extend this misguided and unlawful policy would only hamper recovery efforts and undermine innovation at this consequential moment in our nation’s history.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a staunch Trump ally who has been a proponent of immigration reform, said in June that those who believe work visas hurt the American worker “do not understand the American economy.” Graham’s office did not respond to a request for comment about a potential extension of the executive order.
Alex Gangitano contributed