President Trump is expected to sign an order as soon as Saturday to suspend H-1B, L-1 and other temporary work visas through the end of the year, according to the multiple sources familiar with the plan.
The new order — which is expected to come with broad exceptions — comes as the administration continues to wrestle with high unemployment among American workers because of the coronavirus pandemic as well as kick-start the economic recovery.
The order would target H-1B visas, which are designed for certain skilled workers such as those employed in the tech industry, as well as L-1 visas, which are meant for executives who work for large corporations.
The executive action is also expected to suspend H-2B visas for seasonal workers such as hotel and construction staff; J-1 visas, which are meant for research scholars and professors and other cultural and work-exchange programs. Trump could renew the suspensions when they lapse. The order is not expected to immediately affect anyone already in the United States.
"No matter how you slice it, this is shaping up to be a big win for American workers at a critical time," said RJ Hauman, government relations director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for lower levels of immigration. FAIR had called on Trump to suspend guest worker visas.
"We have some concern over potential abuse of broadly written exceptions, but there is still time for that to be addressed, both now and during implementation," Hauman said.
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the plans.
If signed, it would be the latest restriction on immigration imposed by the Trump administration since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year.
In May, Trump issued a temporary halt on new green cards but stopped short of suspending guest-worker programs amid concerns from the business community.
Negotiations are ongoing in the latest order over various exceptions, including whether au pairs should be included, and changes could still occur before Trump signs the measure, which could happen imminently. But plans for the order have already raised significant concerns among business and industry groups, as well as universities who depend on foreign workers and scholars.
"The ban on H-1B visas, which are often used to fill very niche positions that are not easily found in the American workforce, will ultimately prove to be counterproductive and is an example of using a nuclear bomb to address a bar fight," said Leon Fresco, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration who now represents H-1B workers.
The order does include many exceptions.
It does not apply to H-2A agriculture workers who Trump says are necessary to ensure grocery store shelves remain stocked with fruits and vegetables. Health care workers involved in treating coronavirus patients would also be exempt.
The order would make broad exceptions for travel in the national interest, including in the areas of economics, public health and national security. The U.S. State Department will review and approve these applications on a case-by-case basis.
In 2018, the Trump administration first tightened rules for companies that contract out high-skilled workers who are in this country on H-1B visas. The visas themselves have become controversial. U.S. companies use them to hire highly skilled foreign workers in situations in which they say there is a shortage of U.S.-born talent.
The visas are good for three years and renewable for another three-year term. Critics of the visas — 85,000 of which are issued every year — say American workers are aced out of competition with workers who can be paid less.