Senators call for a moratorium on H-1B and other visas


A group of US senators sent a letter to the president last week calling for a 60-day moratorium on all guest-worker visas along with a one-year moratorium on some new nonimmigrant guest worker visas — such as  H-1B visas — or until “national unemployment figures return to normal levels.”

Senators signing the letter were Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; and Josh Hawley, R-Missouri.

Such visa programs are a threat to the US labor market’s recovery, according to the letter. It also claimed the moratorium on H-1Bs would help existing H-1B holders in the US.

“Temporarily suspending the issuance of new H-1B visas would also protect the hundreds of thousands of H-1B workers and their families already working in the United States — workers who could otherwise be subject to deportation if they are laid off for more than 60 days,” according to the letter.

It added that there could be exceptions granting H-1Bs to healthcare workers coming to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

But such a moratorium could do more harm than good, others argue.

“The ability to access H-1Bs actually helps US workers,” Mark Roberts, CEO of the TechServe Alliance, told SIA.

H-1B visa holders often serve on teams along with US citizens and permanent residents, providing critical expertise necessary to maintaining the work of the team in the US.

“While H-1B candidates usually make up a small part of a project team, they are critical part to the work of US-based teams and keeping jobs in the US,” Roberts said.

Without access to that talent, companies may, regrettably, need to push work offshore. While the proposed moratorium reflects the senators’ long-standing, anti-immigration policy orientation, it is using the crisis as justification, he said. It would be ill-advised and there may not be legal authority to make such changes without an act of Congress, which established the H-1B program.

Roberts also noted the TechServe Alliance’s members, which include IT and engineering staffing firms, seek US talent but an adequate supply is not always there. The skills sought are also specialized and technical. The organization supports training of US workers, but it would not be possible to take someone from another industry — the restaurant industry, for example — and train them overnight in an IT skill such as .net.

In addition, an article in Quartz noted studies have shown restrictive immigration policies reduce economic growth and recovery.

Separately, the National Association for American Policy, a nonpartisan research firm, noted in a report last week that denial rates for H-1B visa petitions for initial unemployment have soared in recent years. The denial rate was 30% in the 2020 federal fiscal year — up from 6% in federal fiscal year 2015.

However, the organization’s report also indicated demand for H-1B visas was strong for such visas prior the pandemic hitting in full force. In March, the government received approximately 275,000 registration for individuals to be eligible for the annual lottery for the 85,000 H-1B visas available under the existing caps.