At the onset of the global pandemic, former President Trump issued several Presidential Proclamations purportedly aimed at protecting U.S. workers and slowing down the spread of COVID-19. Some of these proclamations were targeted at nationals of specific countries with higher rates of COVID, while other proclamations broadly targeted individuals with nonimmigrant and immigrant visas under the false premise that foreign workers harm our economic recovery and preventing their entry was necessary to help the U.S. economy recover from the recession. While the Biden administration has overturned Presidential Proclamation 10014 impacting immigrant visa holders, it has kept in place the country-specific COVID bans and PP 10052, banning nonimmigrant workers, despite recognizing that these types of bans “harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world.”
Specifically, the COVID Proclamation denied entry to foreign nationals with non-immigrant visas and prohibited the issuance of these visas unless they met one of the enumerated exceptions, otherwise known as National Interest Exemptions (NIE.). Despite a federal court injunction that struck down PP10052 for members of the plaintiff organizations, this proclamation was renewed at the end of December through March 31st. Among the foreign nationals who fall under the umbrella of Proclamations include business owners of U.S. companies, as well as their managers and executives. Many of these companies are multinational corporations employing hundreds of thousands of U.S workers.
For instance, one of the visa categories that has been severely affected by the country specific COVID bans is E-2. Congress created this visa category with the intent to positively impact the U.S. economy. E-2 investors spur foreign investment in the U.S. by requiring applicants to invest in the creation of a new business, or purchase of an existing one. By definition, they create job opportunities for U.S. workers by expanding the job market in the U.S. E-2 visa holders employ American workers throughout the country and their U.S. companies also contribute significantly to the U.S. economy via payroll taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, purchasing of U.S. goods, using U.S. services etc.
By restricting E-2 investors, and many others, the bans circumvent the intent of Congress. They specifically restrict the free and safe travel of E-2 visa holders back to the U.S. unless they are able to meet the stringent and oftentimes arbitrary requirements of NIEs. If an E-2 visa holder is unable to travel back to the U.S. to run their business, they are placed in a vulnerable situation in which they may be forced to close their U.S. business and lay off their U.S. employees. When Consulates refuse to issue visas to qualified E-2 applicants solely because they do not meet the stringent requirements for the NIEs, even more jobs are lost state-side. An even harsher NIE policy put in place by the Secretary of State on March 3 has only made matters worse for E-2 visa applicants and visa holders in Europe, resulting in denials of applicants whose travel would be clearly in the national interest.
As of this writing, President Biden has yet to announce his intentions regarding rescinding or leaving in place these bans. At a time when the U.S. economy is trying to limp toward recovery during a pandemic, we hope that economics instead of politics will influence the President to terminate the bans by the end of this month. The proclamations are suffocating the economic recovery in the U.S. With the President confident that most of the U.S. population will be vaccinated by May, any further restrictions in U.S. business activity at this point is irrational in addition to being entirely counterproductive. We need a shot in the arm of foreign investment and talent, not a continued blockade based on xenophobic and restrictionist propaganda.