The Argument for Protecting Immigration Programs During Global Pandemic17 Jun 2020
It is safe to assume most legislators and policymakers worldwide never thought they would be navigating the politics of a pandemic. But when COVID-19 began its devastation, state governors across the United States found themselves forcing nonessential businesses to close and enforcing lockdown policies to mitigate the spread of the virus. As expected, when these businesses shuttered their doors, furloughing and firing to cut costs, unemployment claims soared. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, unemployment claims in this country currently exceed 42 million, a significant percentage of the nation’s population of 328 million.
With the rise in unemployment came a new debate. Many who harbor anti-immigration sentiments are demanding that various work visa categories be curtailed. These critics argue that, until U.S. unemployment returns to pre-pandemic rates, U.S. citizens should not have to compete with nonimmigrant workers for the few jobs that remain. On May 7th, four Republican senators, all of whom have long taken hardline stances against immigrants, voiced this concern in a letter to President Trump. These senators encouraged the president to take steps against various immigration programs, including the H1B and L-1 visa categories, as well as the optional practical training (OPT) program for F-1 students, until the economy recovers. In their letter, these officials claimed, “These suspensions are critical to protecting American workers as our economy gets back on its feet.”
Fortunately, many U.S. officials recognize how damaging such measures would be to our economic recovery. The topic has even stirred debate within party lines. On May 27, 2020, for example, nine Republican senators wrote their own letter to the President describing the importance of nonimmigrant visa programs. These officials argued that foreign workers fill skill shortages, primarily are employed in industries that are not experiencing high unemployment, and often reside “in particular geographic locations where qualified labor is scarce.”
Arguments for the suspension of work visas during the COVID-19 pandemic may, at first, seem credible. University graduates, many of whom took on thousands in debt in the hopes of a higher salary, are now entering the worst labor market since the Great Recession. However, there are reams of studies that show foreign national workers help the economy. Contrary to the claim that these workers take jobs from Americans, the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that they actually create jobs for U.S. workers.
The OPT program is one of the prime targets of anti-immigrant groups, who falsely claim it is costing U.S. workers entry level positions. But businesses and universities have recognized this is simply untrue. More than fifty of them, including TripAdvisor and the University of Massachusetts, signed on to a letter to the President, urging him to leave the program intact. As noted in the letter, “The OPT program is an essential part of maintaining [a] global advantage.”
As the U.S. unemployment rate skyrockets, policymakers and U.S. citizens alike have been scrambling for someone to scapegoat. While it is easy to place blame foreign nationals, suspending immigration programs will neither end the COVID-19 pandemic nor solve the current unemployment crisis. Instead of crippling businesses to suit shortsighted political agendas, legislators should continue to introduce policies that provide financial and social support to U.S. citizens who have lost their jobs. [See Businesses, Colleges Plead with Trump to Preserve Work Visas by Philip Marcelo, AP (APnews.com), 16.Jun.2020 and the letter from the Massachusetts Business Immigration Coalition to the President, U.S. Secretary of State, Secretary of Labor, and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, 06.Apr.2020.]
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