Visa suspensions put employers in a bind

Administration’s abrupt suspension of some visas for the rest of the year leaves foreign workers in their home countries.
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Todd Callewaert, owner of several businesses on Mackinac Island, said he was devastated when he heard the news that some visas were being suspended. Island Photo

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Some companies and businesses that have relied on foreign workers are feeling the impact of a sudden decision that President Donald Trump and his administration made to halt the approval of visas for people outside the U.S. for the remainder of the year.

According to a proclamation by the White House, the approval of H-1B, H-2B, J-1 and L-1A nonimmigrant visas are suspended because of the coronavirus and the “disadvantage” it poses for Americans who are looking to re-enter the labor market as the country reopens.

“American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy, including against millions of aliens who enter the United States to perform temporary work,” the proclamation stated.

As previously reported by the Business Journal, there was an authorized addition of supplemental H-2B visas and later a cap placed on H-2B visas earlier this year, but Kim Clarke, partner and immigration attorney for Varnum LLP, said the suspension of visas for the rest of the year primarily affects companies that have a global presence.

“The most impacted locally will be global businesses that are transferring people from their foreign-related companies into the U.S. and we have several clients who do that,” she said. “They have subsidiaries around the world and part of their operation is to make sure they have integration globally, so they will transfer managers and specialized knowledgeable people, but those have been suspended now. So, there are people outside the U.S. working within the broader company that we would find value in the U.S. employer bringing in, but they will not be able to bring them in until January 2021.”

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the people who are impacted include workers in specialty occupations that require a bachelor’s degree or higher; seasonal workers; exchange visitors like students, teachers and researchers; and assistants and executives or managers from one of an employer’s affiliated foreign offices to one of its offices in the United States.

Todd Callewaert is the owner of several businesses on Mackinac Island: Island House Hotel, Starbucks, Seabiscuit Café, Mary’s Bistro, Pancake House & Grille and Ryba’s Fudge Shop, as well as rental properties.

He said he was devastated when he heard the news because he wasn’t able to get all of his foreign workers to the U.S. this season.

“We had transfers that were already in the country so that was fine, but I think we had 40 foreigners out of the country who were waiting for approvals and we only got 28 workers,” he said. “The rest aren’t coming, and it is tough because I can’t even open two restaurants.”

Some of Callewaert’s workers who are stuck in their home countries like Jamaica and Mexico have been working for him for years, but unfortunately for him, their visas were not processed in time, before the abrupt decision to suspend visa approvals through the rest of the year.

In addition to Callewaert’s job opportunities being seasonal, he said with people receiving unemployment and an extra $600 from the federal government, no one wants to work. 

With only a few of his restaurants partially open, Callewaert projects that the revenues for those restaurants will be down 35% and his hotel revenue will be down around 30% because of limited employees.

Although H-1B, H-2B, J-1 and L-1A visas are suspended, Clarke said there are other visas that are available.

“We most commonly use the H-1B, L and J visas, but there are still available TN visas, which are for Canadians and Mexicans who fall into professional categories,” she said. “There are also E visas that are based on trade treaties among countries, so those are still open for opportunities. There is also an O visa for foreign nationals with extraordinary ability. That is still available to us.”

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