Businessmen are pleading with Trump to secure college work visas

BOSTON  Gregory Minot immigrated to the US from his native Jamaica on a student visa two decades ago and was able to pursue a career in architecture due to a temporary work visa.

Now a US citizen and co-founder of a real estate development firm in Boston, the 43-year-old is worried that new restrictions on student and work visas will be announced earlier this week, and others will stop pursuing a similar path

“When there is cultural, economic, and ethnic diversity, innovation grows,” says Minot. "This is going to come as a shock to the nation because there are no peers from other countries. We have learned from Americans, but Americans will learn from us."

Minot is one of a number of business leaders and academics who are careful to make big and small promises with President Donald Trump as they extend the temporary visa restrictions imposed in April.

He argued that reducing access to talented foreign workers would undermine the economy and major innovations at a much-needed time. Effective immigration hard-liners, usually allied with Trump, have called for strong action to be taken even after their earlier visa restrictions.

Trump, who used the coronavirus crisis through his many attempts to curb legal and illegal immigration, issued a 60-day stay on visas for foreigners seeking permanent residence on April 22. But there is a list of exceptions in this order. And the thousands of temporary work and student visas issued each year are unresolved.

Republican senators, including Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas, have argued that new guest worker visas should be suspended for at least 60 days or until they return to normal levels of unemployment.

In a letter to Trump last month, Senators wrote, "Given the shortage of available jobs," it defies common sense to accept additional foreign guest workers to compete for such limited employment. "

Trump administration officials are debating how long the upcoming ordinance should be implemented and what industries, including those working in health care and food production, should be exempted from.

But the White House has made clear that it is considering stopping H-1B visas for highly skilled workers; H-2B visas for seasonal workers for migrant workers and US-based visas for the L-1 visa.

In recent weeks, businesses and academia have raised concerns about possible changes in alternative practical training, a relatively vague program that allows nearly 200,000 foreign students - mostly from China and India - to work in the country each year.

Created in 1947, the OPT empowers international students to work for a year during college or after graduation. Over the past decade, the program has been extended to those who study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics so that they can work for three years now.

While congressional Republicans have been strong supporters of repealing the program, 21 GOP House lawmakers in a letter to the Trump administration this month have argued that the country needs to be a destination for international students. He said foreign students and their families make over $ 40 billion annually into the economy, although students make up only 5.5% of the US-represented enrollments.

Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, with a population of more than 13,000, said the opponents of the OPT were only anti-immigrant.

"They don't believe in data, they don't believe in facts," he said. "It's a narrow scenario. It's an imperfect view of how to drive economic growth."

Critics say OPT gives companies a financial incentive to hire foreigners over Americans because some federal payroll taxes don't pay off.

The program has no oversight and has become a popular way for foreigners seeking permanent legal status, said Jessica Vaughan, director of the Washington Group Center for Immigration Studies Policy, which advocates for stricter immigration restrictions.

"The government does not want actual training to take place. No one checks on the employer or the working conditions," she said. "Some of the participants are moving back and forth between careers and students, 'short graduate degree programs and employment because they can live here.'

Chinese citizen Zhujiao Wang, who has been part of the event for the past year, said there was nothing wrong with creating his family's future.

The 32-year-old, who holds a doctorate in geoscience from Texas State University, works as a data analyst for a software company in Milford, Massachusetts.

She is two months pregnant and living with her husband in Rhode Island, a Chinese citizen who also works at OPT, and has a 2-year-old American daughter. Wang said the couple hopes to eventually find a permanent home, but any change in selection could send them to China and to an uncertain future.

“China is growing fast, but it is not yet what our generation expects in terms of freedom and choice,” she said. "So that is a concern for us. We are working for our future in America."

In Massachusetts, Andrew Tarsey, co-founder of the Massachusetts Business Immigration Coalition, said the disruptive option is endangering a fundamental part of the state's economy, which is severely damaged by the epidemic.

An advocacy group for the conservation of the program sent a letter to Trump last week. It was signed by about 50 businesses and colleges, including TripAdvisor and the University of Massachusetts, as well as trade associations representing the state's growing life sciences industry, centered around Harvard, MIT, and other Boston-area organizations.

“We are attracting some of the most talented people in the world to study here and this will help them to transform our workforce,” says Tracey. "This has led to the establishment of many, many companies, and the creation of new products and services. This is a bridge for international students."

Boston's architect Minot argues that the time and resources required to invest in legal foreign workers, including attorneys' costs and visa processing fees, may outweigh any tax-saving companies.

His 22-person company, Dream Collaborative, takes three people first on opt-in permits on H-1B visas - the same way Minot began his career.

“These programs have enabled me to live in this country, start a business and create a better future for my family,” said the father of two American-born sons. "My children are the next generation to benefit from it, and let's hope they become great citizens of this country."

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