Business groups sue Homeland Security for ‘unlawful’ suspension of worker visas

Several of the largest business advocacy groups in the U.S. have filed a joint lawsuit to stop the federal government from moving forward with new restrictive measures that are handicapping companies’ ability to meet workforce needs through “lawful immigration.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, Technology Network and others filed the complaint in response to a proclamation issued June 22 by the White House, “purportedly” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to free up jobs for Americans, the complaint states. 

The action could result in as many as 500,000 people – many among the” best and brightest” – being banned from coming to the U.S. this year, the complaint states.   

Top professionals not welcome

Named as defendants are the departments of Homeland Security and State, and their respective heads, Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in their official capacity.

“Our lawsuit seeks to overturn these sweeping and unlawful immigration restrictions that are an unequivocal ‘not welcome’ sign to the engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other critical workers who help drive the American economy,” U.S. Chamber CEO Thomas  Donohue said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed. “Left in place, these restrictions will push investment abroad, inhibit economic growth and reduce job creation.”

It’s also unrealistic to expect companies to immediately alter their domestic operations to find half a million replacements for these valuable workers, states the complaint that was filed in federal court in San Francisco July 21.

Overstepping executive boundaries 

In issuing the proclamation, the Trump administration unlawfully exceeded the “statutory and constitutional authority of the Executive,” the lawsuit states. 

These restrictions “are far outside the bounds of the law and would deal a severe blow to our industry,” Linda Kelly, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed. 

“We cannot let this stand. These overreaching, unlawful restrictions don’t just limit visas, they will restrain our economic recovery at a time when the very future of our country hangs in the balance,” Kelly said.   

Industry should be focused on recovery and not on visa restrictions that “will hand other countries a competitive advantage because they will drive talented individuals away from the United States,” she said. 

Most restrictive immigration policies in “nearly a century” 

Chamber CEO Donohue echoed those concerns in an opinion piece he wrote for the New York Times explaining why it was necessary to file a lawsuit.

Donohue stated that American innovation is threatened by the worker visa policy and other recent restrictive policies. Among those is the administration’s efforts to cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, right after the program was upheld by the Supreme Court on June 18. 

He also cited the White House’s recent failed effort to ban international students from attending American colleges and universities that hold classes virtually in the fall.

“Taken together, these are the most restrictionist immigration policies in nearly a century. This is a fundamental mistake at a time when our nation’s economy is already suffering,” Donohue said.

Skilled workers, researchers, scholars among those banned

Among the visas suspended are H-1B visas for skilled workers that are relied on by the technology industry; H-4 visas for spouses; H-2B visas for seasonal workers; J-1 visas for researchers, scholars and au pairs; and L-1 visas for executives who transfer to the U.S. after working for the same employer abroad.

“This proclamation is meant to protect American jobs but instead it threatens the millions of rank-and-file workers whose jobs rely on experts coming up with the latest technology to keep retail moving forward,” Stephanie Martz, National Retail Foundation chief administrative officer and general counsel, said in a statement.

Groups that filed lawsuit represent millions of businesses, consumers

Among the organizations that filed the complaint:

U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation representing more than 3 million companies and professional organizations of every size, in every industry sector, and from every region of the U.S.  

National Association of Manufacturers is the largest manufacturing association in the U.S., representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. 

National Retail Federation is the world’s largest retail trade association, representing discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants, and internet retailers from the U.S. and more than 45 countries. 

Technology Network is the national, bipartisan network of technology CEOs and senior executives that advocate for the growth of the innovation economy at the federal and all 50 states. TechNet’s represents over three million employees and their customers in the fields of information technology, e-commerce, the sharing and gig economies, advanced energy, cybersecurity, venture capital, and finance. Intrax, Inc. is a cultural exchange company that operates multiple Department of State-designated exchange programs that bring participants to the U.S. on J-1 visas for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs.

Victoria Harker

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