President Joe Biden has partially lifted a Trump-era ban that has severely restricted legal immigration amid the pandemic. It has separated families and harmed US industries that rely on international talent.
Family members of US citizens and holders of a green card can now immigrate to the US, a phenomenon that former President Donald Trump previously described as “chain migration”. This also applies to individuals selected to receive visas under the Diversity Visa Lottery, which enables the US to accept 55,000 immigrants annually from countries with historically low immigration rates and who are the subject of Trump’s infamous “shitty country” – Rant was.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that restrictions on these immigrants have prevented about 26,000 people from receiving green cards each month since last April when Trump implemented the ban.
However, many foreign workers applying for a temporary visa are banned from entering the U.S. until at least March 31, when the existing ban is likely to expire, unless Biden decides to extend it.
This includes skilled workers applying for the coveted H-1B visa that the tech industry has relied on and their spouses applying for H-4 visas as their dependents. Foreigners moving to the US offices of their multinational corporations on an L visa, including business people, as well as some academics and people participating in culture and work exchanges on J-1 visas, are also still banned.
It’s not clear when Biden will lift restrictions on these visa applicants, which Trump saw as a threat to domestic workers laid off in the wake of the pandemic. Although Trump government officials at the time argued that the ban would save 525,000 American jobs, most of the layoffs ultimately came in industries where not many foreign workers are employed on visas, suggesting that the ban would do little to reduce unemployment and contributing to unemployment could have harmed businesses that employ both Americans and non-citizens.
The ban always excluded immigrants already in the U.S., existing visa holders, contract workers in the food industry, and healthcare workers and researchers fighting Covid-19.
In a proclamation on Wednesday evening, Biden said the ban “does not advance the interests of the United States.”
“On the contrary, it harms the United States by, among other things, preventing certain family members of US citizens and legal permanent residents from joining their families here,” he wrote. “It also hurts industries in the US that employ talent from around the world.”
The lifting of the ban is only the first step: The Biden government must now clear the extensive backlog of visa applications that arose while the ban came into force. These include around 473,000 visa applicants who have been sponsored by family members in the United States.
Lawyers for the victims say they will continue to challenge the remaining provisions of the ban on foreign workers in court. Last year, a federal judge exempted 181 families from the ban who could prove they had been harmed, including children who were not eligible for green cards after the age of 21, when the ban was still in force.
In addition to pressure to lift the visa ban, Biden is also being pushed to repeal Trump-era policies that continue to allow the US to turn away the vast majority of asylum seekers arriving on the southern border for pandemic-related reasons. He could do this by issuing a similar unilateral proclamation.
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