Trump suspended most work visas until the end of the year, but US embassy closures around the world have already been keeping workers from getting them


Trump Cook Nadella Bezos

  • The US closed embassies around the world due to coronavirus earlier this year.
  • This has meant non-essential visa services have been suspended — leaving countless would-be immigrant workers unable to move to the US.
  • On Monday, Trump suspended the H-1B skilled worker visa program, but these closures meant many foreigners were already effectively blocked from entering the country for months.
  • The embassy closures, sweeping travel bans, and visa program suspensions will hit the tech industry hard, which is heavily reliant on skilled foreign workers.
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President Trump suspended most new work visas, including the high-skilled H-1B program on Monday, drawing immediate condemnation from CEOs of the tech companies that use it liberally to hire foreign workers.

But for many would-be immigrant workers, the order changed little. US embassy closures around the world and prohibitive travel bans mean it's already been near impossible for people to get visas to visit the US for months.

Back on March 20, the US State Department announced it was suspending all "routine visa services" at its embassies due to the growing COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the vast majority of workers hoping to move to the US or change visas unable to move forward. The US also imposed sweeping bans on visitors from regions that have been hard-hit by the coronavirus — including China, much of the European Union, the UK, Brazil, and Ireland.

Together, the embassy closures and travel bans have made it near impossible for foreigners to work in the US — with huge implications for American industry, particularly the technology sector, which is heavily reliant on highly skilled immigrant labor. Major Silicon Valley tech firms like Google, Apple, and Facebook each have thousands of foreign workers on H-1B visas.

One Swedish worker who had been living in San Francisco left the US in March as he attempted to move from an expiring visa to a different one, he told Business Insider. His application for an O-1 ("extraordinary ability") visa was granted — but the embassy shutdown as well as a ban on European Schengen-area visitors to America means he's been stuck back home, unable to receive the visa and return to the US.

"No one at the embassy or State Department gives any indication of when embassies will resume routine visa services," he said. "I had to leave everything behind pretty much — apartment, girlfriend and most belongings. I can do remote work for my employer, so I've been doing that from here." (The worker spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss his immigration status.)

These closures mean that even workers who aren't on the visas specifically targeted (H-1B, H-2B, J-1, L) by Trump's proclamation on Monday have been effectively blocked from entering the US, as they cannot attend the appointments necessary for their visas to be granted. (Some urgent and essential workers can still be granted US visas, including "air and sea crew, and medical personnel, particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19.")

A State Department spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday that all routine visa services as US embassies worldwide remain suspended, and did not give a timeframe as to when they might resume. The department is continuing to assess when they might reopen, they added.

SEE ALSO: Trump's shutdown of H-1B visas is a huge hit to the Silicon Valley tech giants that employ tens of thousands of affected workers

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