June 24, 2020 10:40AM

Foreign Worker Visas Were Down 93% Before Trump’s Order

President Trump announced a new ban on visas for foreign workers last night. He said it would preserve 525,000 jobs. This number appears to come from the total number of visas issued in the affected categories last year divided in half since the ban will last about six months, but the fact is that since the State Department suspended visa processing at consulates in March, visas in these categories were already down 93 percent last month compared to the first quarter of FY 2020 before the order took effect.

Figure 1 shows the number of visas issued in the five categories that the order targets. H-1B visa approvals for high skilled foreign workers were down 99 percent, relative to the first quarter monthly average. H‐​4s for their spouses and children were also down 99 percent. L visas for intracompany transfers were down 97 percent, and J visas for exchange program participants were down 98 percent. Only the H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers were less affected but were still down 29 percent. Some H‐​2Bs in food production industries are exempt from the latest ban as well. Overall, just 5,272 work visas were issued in May, from a high of 91,886 in December.

The H-2B had managed to limp along the past couple of months because the State Department decided to waive interviews for H-2B visa applicants, which is a necessary condition to obtain a visa and was impossible due to the consulate closures. It also extended the visa interview waiver to H-2A agricultural visas, which has allowed farmers to keep production on track. Figure 2 shows the work visas for categories not targeted by the latest presidential proclamation. All of them except for the H-2A visa had declines of 94 percent or greater from the first quarter monthly average to May 2020. The H-2A visa issuances more than doubled as is normal to ramp up for the summer season.

Figure 3 shows other non‐​work visas categories not affected by the ban. These categories are dominated by the tourist and temporary business traveler B class but also include students, fiancés of U.S. citizens, and visitors or employees of international organizations or governments. These other categories have declined 98 percent compared to the monthly average in the first quarter of FY 2020.

The president’s proclamation also extends his earlier ban on immigrant visas for prospective legal permanent residents. Figure 4 lists the number of immigrant visas issued by major group by month in FY 2020. Overall, immigrant visa issuances were down 98 percent in May, relative to the monthly average in the first quarter of FY 2020, which was an increase from 96 percent in April. President Trump’s first order was effective April 23, 2020, but by that point, immigrant visa issuances had already largely stopped.

President Trump’s order will have many negative economic implications if consulates reopen, but with consulates closed, the order will affect almost no one right now. The ban still matters because it locks in these reductions in work visas, and it establishes a precedent that the administration can extend indefinitely as it has with its other bans on asylum seekers and Muslim majority countries.