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The COVID-19 pandemic has restricted travel all over the world, with many countries going into lockdown and closing their borders. The United States was no exception and even went a step further than many other countries. In June 2020 the U.S. halted its immigration processes through the infamous H1B visa ban.
The original ban was only set to last until December 31, 2020 despite various travel ban lawsuits. But while the COVID-19 pandemic continues on its rampage, the Trump administration chose to extend the ban to March 31, 2021.
Here’s what you need to know about the ban, the extension, and how it will affect your immigration process for living and working in the U.S.
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On June 22, 2020, President Trump issued an executive order restricting foreign nationals on H1B, L, H2B, or J visas from entering the United States if they were outside the U.S. at the time the order came into force. The order also suspended new green cards and visas, for example, the H1B visa and other employment-based visas such as the L visa, from being issued.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on American workers and the U.S. economy, with lay-offs across various sectors and many businesses being forced to shut down. The pandemic has unfortunately left many Americans jobless, with the unemployment rate reaching a record of 14.7% in April 2020.
According to Trump, the reason he chose to issue the executive order was to protect American jobs and the U.S. labor market. The Trump administration decided the best way to help improve employment among American citizens at this time is by limiting foreign workers’ access to U.S. jobs. Trump reasoned by restricting these visa categories, more jobs would be available to Americans.
So to provide more opportunity to citizens, the government implemented anti-immigration policies, including the H1B visa ban. These policies make it more difficult for new immigrants to receive visas, especially for their family members who are outside of the U.S.
The plans to suspend immigration already started in April 2020 when President Trump signed the first proclamation preventing immigrants from entering the U.S. The April 2020 proclamation applied to individuals who wanted permanent residence in the U.S. and who were outside of the U.S. at that time. It also suspended the diversity lottery program, employment-based visas, green cards, and certain family-based visas for applicants outside of the U.S.
In June 2020, the April 2020 executive order was extended and expanded to include:
Under the ban, the U.S. won’t allow anyone wanting to apply for a new or renewal visa in these specific categories to enter its borders. This makes legal entry into the U.S. more difficult than ever during the pandemic.
The original ban affected over 525,000 workers seeking employment in the U.S. This included skilled foreign workers, seasonal workers, cultural and work exchange visas, and intra-company transfer visas. Another group affected was over 9,000 individuals that won the 2020 Green Card Lottery who’s been caught in limbo since the start of the ban.
In December 2020, just before the ban expired, the Trump administration extended the ban until March 31, 2021. They said the reason for the extension was the rising economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the American workforce that doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.
This extension was done ahead of the President-Elect Joe Biden’s takeover of the government later in January. However, Biden is expected to rescind many of Donald Trump’s policies on immigration, including the H1B visa ban.
While all the restrictions from the original ban remain in place, a federal court has also upheld the amendment that requires new immigrants to have existing health insurance. It was originally blocked by a federal judge from taking immediate effect in October 2019.
New immigrants must now prove they can obtain coverage for their medical expenses within 30 days of entry. This can put an extra financial strain on a group that might have already spent a lot of money relocating to the U.S.
If you fall into one of the affected visa categories, the ban’s impact on you depends on whether you’re currently residing in the U.S. or trying to enter the country from abroad.
If you currently find yourself outside of the U.S., this is what you can expect:
If however, you’re already within the borders of the U.S., the following applies to you:
But it’s not all bad news for workers who want to be employed in the U.S. The extension will reduce the applications for family-based green cards, which in turn will provide earlier priority dates for employment-based visa applications.
This push has already been seen with the October 2020’s Visa Bulletin, and a similar push is expected in 2021 if the ban continues.
While the ban might have a serious impact on your visa status, immigration restrictions are expected to be eased as the U.S. government transitions towards a Democrat-led administration with Joe Biden at the wheel.
However, no promises have been made by the incoming Biden administration just yet, so it’s best to prepare for the worst and settle in for the long haul.