Beginning Wednesday, the U.S. will temporarily stop granting some new work visas to people from other countries. An order signed this week by President Donald Trump barred new work visa applicants through the end of the year, including for highly-skilled jobs covered under the H-1B program.
But pandemic-related travel restrictions limiting people from entering the United States mean the ban will have little short-term effect.
However, experts say any long-term extensions could hurt economies with businesses that rely on workers who secure the specialist visas to work in the U.S., including Tampa Bay.
“If this ban continues well after the general travel restrictions end, I think it will push more workers outside of the United States,” said Stuart Anderson, executive director of the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy.
H-1B visas are meant to help companies fill positions they otherwise wouldn’t be able to with American workers. They included skilled positions, such as those in the technology sector, and run for up to six years. Roughly two-thirds go to tech-related positions, and about 70 percent of H-1B workers come from India, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The ban, Anderson said, applies to new applicants. Those who already have visas will likely be unaffected unless they leave the country and try to reenter.
Locally, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Kforce Inc. had the largest shares of these employees in Tampa Bay last year. PwC had 568 applicants approved for the first time last year, before the coronavirus-related travel bans went into effect, as well as 1,147 who were extended. Kforce, a tech staffing agency, had 183 first-time approvals and 700 continuing approvals last year in its Tampa office. Because most of its H-1B employees are continuing instead of new, it doesn’t expect a significant immediate impact from the ban.
“Unless the administration comes up with some other regulations, our business is not affected with the current regulations,” said Manish Mohan, chief global talent officer.
Though the order expires at the end of the year, Anderson said, President Trump could theoretically renew it if he were reelected for a second term. That’s when Kforce and other companies might feel the pinch.
Skilled workers in tech-related fields are difficult to find. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the May unemployment rate in computer-related fields nationwide was 2.5 percent. Because of the cost and complexity of the application process, employers often hire domestically before they recruit foreign talent.
“Companies don’t want to go through that unless it’s absolutely a requirement,” said Kaushik Dutta, professor at the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business.
What companies may do, Dutta said, is continue to look outside the U.S. for qualified talent. But instead of bringing them here, companies may allow their foreign workers to do their jobs from their home country.
“Companies have learned to adapt themselves to working remotely,” he said. Solutions to issues with a remote workforce also have been ironed out as companies adjust to working from home during the pandemic.
Should companies continue to hire internationally but let those new employees work remotely, Tampa Bay’s economy as a whole would lose out on the spending those workers would have brought if they lived in the area for the duration of their visa. Tampa had just under 1,000 new and 2,250 continuing H-1B visas approved in 2019. St. Petersburg had 67 new and 108 continuing visas approved, while Clearwater had 40 new visas and about 100 continuing visas.
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
HOW CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN FLORIDA: Find the latest numbers for your county, city or zip code.
SO YOU WANT TO LEAVE YOUR HOUSE? Read these 10 tips first
UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits
GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.