Ten lines of text tucked away in US President Donald Trump's latest visa crackdown announced on June 22 are being red flagged by a top US immigration attorney as a sign that the Trump administration could land a fresh round of immigration actions targeting people legally in the US on H1B visas.
The Trump administration extended till year-end a ban on green cards issued outside the United States. It added multiple temporary work visas to the freeze, including the H1B.
Trump's proclamation on June 22 directs the Labor Secretary and Homeland Security Secretary to "consider promulgating regulations or take other appropriate action to ensure that the presence in the United States of aliens who have been admitted or otherwise provided a benefit, or who are seeking admission or a benefit, pursuant to an EB-2 or EB-3 immigrant visa or an H-1B nonimmigrant visa does not disadvantage United States workers."
New York based immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta describes these lines in Trump's latest proclamation as "pernicious".
"This may just be wishful language. It does not have any legal impact right now. But it does direct the administration to take other actions with respect to people already here, in the future", Mehta told IANS in a video interview.
Those actions could take the form of "rescinding people's approved petitions", Mehta explained.
"We don't know as yet, I don't want to cause needless panic but this clause does allow the administration to take actions with respect to people who are already here."
There's no immediate trigger, Mehta clarified, but agreed the door has been left wide open
For the "time being", according to Mehta's assessment, people inside the US with valid visas need not fear.
The latest ban is temporary but delivers the kind of sledgehammer blow to legal immigration that the Trump administration has been unable to implement in one swoop before the pandemic.
Hardliners who have been grumbling about Trump's incremental actions so far are applauding the latest body blow to work visa holders.
Attorneys like Mehta and H1B workers agree that the optics work well for Trump's base, even if the American workers aren't really protected in the real world.
"It's an election gimmick", said an Atlanta based H1B worker's spouse. "It really can't get much worse", said another, referring to the American experience of the guest worker in the Trump era. Both requested not to be named.
Bottom line, if you're here in the US on the night of June 24, this proclamation does not apply, Mehta said.
"It does not really impact the processing of H1B petitions or L1 petitions, extension applications or change of status requests. If you're outside the US on June 24, and you don't have an unexpired visa on June 24, these are the people who are going to get blocked", Mehta said.
Almost exactly around the time Trump took office, the H1B skewering became a never ending string of small and big policy decisions all threaded together in such painstaking detail that it has driven guest workers to utter exhaustion. In the last three years, the Trump administration has won many small battles in its effort to squeeze legal immigration and asylum seekers, especially at the southern border.
The Trump administration is now framing this ambitious project as a way to free up jobs for Americans first in an economy reeling from the coronavirus.
The ban on new visas takes effect Wednesday, June 24, via a presidential action headlined "Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the US Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak."
The Trump administration is now working on a new rubric - highest salary instead of lottery as the high water mark for awarding H-1B visas, a senior White House official said in a background briefing earlier this week.