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As Trump suspends new H-1B visas, many tech workers face an uncertain future

"Marco Menkens" (2020-07-27)

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President Trump's suspension of work visas in June placed many immigrant tech workers in limbo.

Angela Lang/CNET

When President Donald Trump temporarily suspended the issuance of work visas in late June, Sumana Kaluvai wasn't immediately worried. Her dad, an engineer at a software company, is on an H-1B visa for highly skilled employees. Because he's been in the US for more than two decades, the new policy wouldn't affect him, she figured.

Kaluvai was wrong. Her father had gone back to India in early March to get his visa restamped. But the process was delayed when the forced the US embassy in Chennai to close. Then, Trump signed the on June 22, pushing what had been a routine task into early next year. In the meantime, Kaluvai's dad is working remotely. (CNET isn't using her father's name for privacy reasons.)

"It really makes me question why people like myself, my father and other immigrants continue staying in a country that we call home, yet doesn't welcome us and continues to take so much away from our community," said Kaluvai, who works in biotech and pharma consulting and is on an . "I don't know how much longer hundreds of thousands of people like myself will continue to stay in this country." Kaluvai's sentiment is shared by many immigrants on work visas, including the H-1B. Many feel they can't put down roots in the US, even though they've been here for years. Some have turned to countries, such as Canada, that have more-welcoming immigration policies. Others have returned to their homelands. Many immigrants who stay in the US live with day-to-day anxiety over their status, wondering if it might change overnight.

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Trump said the , which will reportedly  this year, will help unemployed Americans find jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.  "Under ordinary circumstances, properly administered temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy," Trump's proclamation reads. "But under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers." Critics argue the executive order will stifle US economic growth and progress, . The H-1B visa program has been critical for bringing creativity and innovation to Silicon Valley, they say. The technology sector has long relied on H-1B visas to hire high-skilled workers for roles it can't fill with Americans because of the . The visa lasts for three years but can be renewed. Around allotted each year go to computer science workers, according to the Associated Press, some of whom work for Silicon Valley giants. Amazon, , Google, Facebook and -- which were collectively in 2019 -- have