Trump’s Immigration Changes Expected to Impact Employers

A key theme of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was his pledge to overhaul U.S. immigration laws. While his immigration plan is largely focused on shoring up border security, it also has many elements that could impact employers. 

Trump has given few specifics, but it’s possible to infer some aspects of his immigration strategy based on statements he made on the campaign trail, his 100-day plan and the advisers he has chosen, according to Bo Cooper, a partner at immigration law firm Fragomen. He spoke Nov. 16 during a webinar sponsored by Worldwide ERC, the workforce mobility association. 

One example would be Trump’s threat to pull the U.S. out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which would greatly impact employers that have Canadians or Mexicans who are working here under NAFTA-related visas. Cooper said many companies have already taken steps to gauge how dependent they are on these workers so they can be ready to take action as developments arise. Other employers have taken a more proactive approach and have begun switching these workers to H-1B visas or hiring them as permanent workers. 

Many employers would also be greatly affected by Trump’s proposal to impose extreme vetting of Muslims entering the U.S., as this would significantly delay, or in some cases prevent, visa processing of these individuals. "We saw a lot of that after 9/11, so we could see a big slowdown in visa adjudications," he said. 

Employers also could face new limits on the percentage of foreign nationals that they would be allowed to have in their workforce, Cooper said. There is also likely to be a push to enact legislation that would raise the wages that employers would have to pay to H-1B workers and require them to seek out domestic candidates prior to hiring foreign workers. 

Another law that could be on the chopping block is one that grants 24-month work authorization to foreign students who have earned science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees. The new administration is also likely to move to eliminate a regulation implemented by President Obama that allows spouses of H-1B visa holders to be employed. 

Employers also need to be vigilant if Trump follows through on his pledge to step up deportation of illegal aliens who engage in criminal activity, as this could have implications for workers who are here legally too, Cooper said. "If you have an employee from a foreign country who engages in criminal activity, it is important for you and the employee to pay attention to his or her immigration situation," he said. 

A number of new rules or modifications may be in the cards, but making specific predictions remains a challenge given the lack of detail on Trump’s plans and his tendency to change his positions over time. Still, the question isn’t so much whether there will be changes, but rather how big they will be and how quickly they will be enacted. 

With this in mind, employers can prepare by taking the following steps: ensure that their visa practices are in order; assess what impact these potential proposals would have on their workforce, and keep a close eye on visa-related developments.

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