The Trump administration was blocked from restricting H-1B visas that highly skilled foreign technology workers rely on to work in the U.S. The ruling conflicts with a pair of decisions in September in similar cases.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in Oakland, Calif., agreed with several big U.S. business groups, which argued President Donald Trump exceeded his authority by imposing the immigration restrictions. The order, at odds with the conclusion reached by a federal judge in Washington, means the fight will likely move to an appeals court.
White said his order doesn’t apply nationwide but only to the members of the plaintiff organizations. Those members, which include giants like Amazon.com and Microsoft Corp., comprise hundreds of thousands of U.S. businesses of all sizes and from a cross-section of economic sectors.
Trump declared in a June proclamation that foreign workers pose a threat to the U.S. labor market amid the downturn caused by coronavirus pandemic. His decree froze new H-1B and H-4 visas, used by technology workers and their families, as well as L visas for intracompany transfers and most J visas for work- and study-abroad programs, including au pairs, through the end of the year. Thursday’s order also blocks restrictions on J and L visas.
In his ruling, White distinguished the visa ban from Trump’s earlier travel ban restricting nationals of six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S., which was upheld by the Supreme Court as a legitimate exercise of the president’s power to conduct foreign affairs.
The visa ban “deals with a purely domestic economic issue — the loss of employment during a national pandemic,” the judge wrote. “This court rejects the position that the proclamation implicates the president’s foreign affairs powers simply because it affects immigration.”
White added, “There must be some measure of constraint on presidential authority in the domestic sphere in order not to render the executive an entirely monarchical power in the immigration context.”
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Retail Federation sued to block the restrictions, saying they impede the hiring of engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other critical workers who help drive the American economy.
The Chamber is a longtime supporter of high-skilled immigration and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which provides legal status for some migrants who entered the country as children.
Approximately 580,000 foreign workers with H-1B visas in specialized jobs are in the United States, according to the suit. Almost 160,000 L visas were issued in 2019 for executives, managers and employees with special experience and their dependents, and about 300,000 exchange visitors enter the U.S. annually on J visas, the Chamber said.
Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, is among the companies that have expressed support for a court order blocking Trump’s policy.