A clash has broken out between factions at the White House over whether to extend an expiring freeze on various temporary work visas, including those used by foreign high-tech workers and by au pairs, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.
The measure, which President Trump signed earlier in 2020, is due to expire at the end of the year, on Thursday.
The business community has pushed to lift the six-month moratorium, arguing it threatens America's economic interests, while proponents for an extension say the conditions created by the pandemic that warranted the suspension still exist.
Advocates for an extension also argue it would tie the hands of President-elect Joe Biden, who would need to weigh the political implications of lifting the moratorium next year when many U.S. workers will likely remain jobless because of the pandemic.
The White House declined to comment, and the Biden transition did not immediately respond to questions. The two sources familiar with the debate sought anonymity to detail internal White House deliberations.
Trump signed a proclamation in June suspending entry to non-U.S. citizens who "present a risk to the U.S. labor market following the coronavirus outbreak."
Among those are holders of high-skilled H-1B visas, used in the tech industry, as well as executive L-1 visas and certain J-1 visas used by au pairs. The measure was aimed at applicants for new visas.
The proclamation was actually an extension of Trump's earlier "Buy American, Hire American" executive order, which called for federal agencies to take stronger action to enforce immigration laws to protect U.S. workers.
But the signing in June not only put foreign workers' plans on hold, it also left thousands of American parents expecting the help of an au pair scrambling for child care. The ban came at a particularly difficult time as the demand for child care exploded when schools and day cares shut down because of the pandemic.
Ahead of the moratorium's expiration, advocate groups on both sides of the issue have exerted strong pressure on the White House.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers sued the Trump administration, charging that the rules would "devastate companies across various industries" if allowed to stand.
"Banning critical and skilled workers from entering the country was a mistake, and it disrupted manufacturers' fight against COVID-19 at exactly the wrong time," NAM's general counsel, Linda Kelly, told NPR in a statement Wednesday. "Manufacturers' legal case halted the ban and ensured we could continue leading our pandemic response and economic recovery. Any effort to extend this misguided and unlawful policy would only hamper recovery efforts and undermine innovation at this consequential moment in our nation's history."
In October, a judge blocked the Trump administration's ban on many foreign worker visas, but the ruling only applied to the companies represented by the business groups involved in the case.
Advocates who favor tighter immigration restrictions argue the public health and economic crisis created by the pandemic is still the same as it was six months ago.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, wrote a letter this week urging Trump to extend the measures well into 2021, noting it would leave Biden with a tough policy and political decision.
"If Joe Biden does end up entering the Oval Office and quickly rescinds this Proclamation, he will have to answer to the American people and tell them why he decided to increase immigration and restore unfettered access to guest workers in the midst of the greatest economic crisis in living memory," Stein wrote in the letter that has also been circulated around Capitol Hill.