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Business groups hint at lawsuits over Trump order limiting visas

Business groups hint at lawsuits over Trump order limiting visas
© Greg Nash

Business groups are bashing President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked by platform's pre-election blackout Mnuchin says he learned of Pelosi's letter to him about stimulus talks 'in the press' Harris to travel to Texas Friday after polls show tie between Trump, Biden MORE’s new limits on work visas and hinting at possible legal action against an executive order they see as an attack on legal immigration.

The backlash follows Trump’s executive order on Monday that slapped new limits on foreign workers, a hard-line immigration move seen as an appeal to his base as the presidential election draws near.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which had lobbied the White House against imposing the order, said Trump’s action is likely to stifle job gains at a time when the economy needs fewer restrictions, not more.

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CEO Thomas Donohue said in a statement that Trump’s “proclamation is a severe and sweeping attempt to restrict legal immigration. Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back.”

Donohue had called on Trump to not impose the visa policies. The Chamber’s top lobbyist, Neil Bradley, also pressed National Economic Council Director Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE and White House senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump says ex-staffer who penned 'Anonymous' op-ed should be 'prosecuted' Kushner told Woodward in April Trump was 'getting the country back from the doctors' What a Biden administration should look like MORE on the issue in a letter last month.

Trump’s order could now trigger a flurry of lawsuits, something the Chamber and others haven’t ruled out.

“At this point in time, the Chamber is considering all available options to ensure our immigration system allows employers to meet their workforce needs,” Jon Baselice, executive director of immigration at the Chamber, told The Hill.

A National Association of Manufacturers spokesperson told The Hill on Tuesday that litigation isn’t off the table for them either.

“We are examining all avenues to address this action and its impact on manufacturing, including potential litigation,” the spokesperson said.

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The executive order suspends the issuance of temporary work visas, including H-1B visas, H-2B visas, H-4 visas, L-1 visas and certain J-1 visas, through the end of 2020.

H-1B visas are set aside for skilled workers, especially in the technology industry, and H-4 visas are given to their spouses. H-2B visas apply to seasonal workers; J-1 visas are for researchers, scholars and au pairs; and L-1 visas are for executives who transfer to the U.S. after working for the same employer abroad.

TechNet, a trade group consisting of tech executives, also hinted at possible legal action.

“Should litigation be filed by our member companies and partners regarding this executive order, we fully expect to join those efforts,” CEO Linda Moore told The Hill on Tuesday. “We will also continue to urge Congress to pass much needed immigration reform.”

Google, Apple, Amazon, Twitter and Uber are among technology companies that have spoken out against Trump’s proclamation.

In addition to the legal ramifications, experts argue that Trump’s order is bad for the economy, especially at a time when it’s trying to climb out of the coronavirus hole.

“If you really care about the U.S. economy, U.S. competitiveness and opportunity for U.S. citizens, cutting back on skilled immigration has very much the unintended consequence of being harmful in those domains,” said Bill Boulding, dean of Duke University Fuqua School of Business.

Alexander Arnon, a senior analyst at Penn Wharton Budget Model working on immigration issues, said business groups have study after study to back up their opposition to the administration’s action. 

“They are right; at least, that is what we believe based on the overwhelming consensus of research and many decades of research into the economic effects of immigration,” Arnon said. “The arguments made in the proclamation are not sound, and there is a lot of reason to believe this will hurt the economic recovery.”

Trump said the order will help the unemployment rate, which more than tripled after the pandemic took hold. The order says that during “extraordinary circumstances” these visas “pose an unusual threat” to American workers seeking employment.

“I understand the instinct to protect American workers, to give them opportunity in light of what is really a terrifying economic crisis,” Boulding said. “Having said that, the evidence is clear that this is not the way to do it. What we know in terms of the economic impact of skilled immigration, skilled immigration is actually job-creating for Americans.”

Even Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Election night could be a bit messy The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump, Biden blitz battleground states Late donor surges push election spending projections to new heights MORE (R-S.C.), a staunch Trump ally, said that suspending the temporary work visas will have a “chilling effect” on the economic recovery.

“Those who believe legal immigration, particularly work visas, are harmful to the American worker do not understand the American economy,” Graham said.

The head of the National Association of Manufacturers, Jay Timmons, said in a blunt statement Monday that Trump’s action weakens the manufacturing industry, a sector the president has long courted with his criticism of previous trade agreements.

“Leaders should be working to strengthen manufacturing in the United States, but these actions will make our industry unquestionably weaker,” Timmons said. “We will lose talented individuals to other countries, giving them an added advantage in competing against us. This action will not help manufacturers lead our economic recovery and renewal.”

Like Donohue, Timmons sent a letter to Trump earlier this month about how immigrants’ contributions often create opportunities for American workers and strengthen the overall economy.

The effect of the order will likely take months to show up in any measurable way in the economy, but major companies are already warning of immediate, drastic effects for their workers.

The Business Roundtable, which is made up of CEOs from leading U.S. companies with Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon serving as chairman, said its members are worried about the effect of the executive order.

“Business Roundtable is concerned that the Administration’s proposed changes to immigration policy will disrupt business operations, the lives of our employees and ultimately harm our ability to do our part to rebuild the economy,” the group said in a statement.