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Judge Blocks Large Parts Of Temporary Work Visa Ban

Leo Wang packs a suitcase at his San Jose, Calif. home. Feb. 4, 2019. Wang has found himself trapped in an obstacle course regarding H-1B work visas for foreigners.
Ben Margot
Leo Wang packs a suitcase at his San Jose, Calif. home. Feb. 4, 2019. Wang has found himself trapped in an obstacle course regarding H-1B work visas for foreigners.

A judge on Thursday temporarily lifted a visa ban on a large number of work permits, undercutting a measure that the Trump administration says protects American jobs in a pandemic-wracked economy.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said his ruling applied to members of organizations that sued the administration — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, National Retail Federation, TechNet, a technology industry group, and Intrax Inc., which sponsors cultural exchanges.

White, ruling in Oakland, California, said his order didn't extend beyond those groups. But he noted they are comprised of “hundreds of thousands of American businesses of all sizes from a cross-section of economic sectors,” including Microsoft Corp. and Inc.


Paul Hughes, an attorney for the associations, said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone has “more than 300,000 members of all shapes and sizes across the United States.”

The injunction, which lifts the ban while the case is being litigated, is at least a temporary setback for the administration's efforts to limit legal immigration during the coronavirus outbreak.

White, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, said President Donald Trump likely acted outside bounds of his authority.

The judge wrote “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, an area within clear legislative prerogative.”

The ban, which took effect in June and is scheduled to last until the end of this year, applies to H-1B visas, which are widely used by major American and Indian technology companies, H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers, J visas for cultural exchanges and L visas for managers and other key employees of multinational corporations.


It was the second time in three days that White blocked a significant change on immigration. On Tuesday, he halted major fee increases for citizenship and other benefits three days before they were to take effect.

The Homeland Security and Justice departments did not immediately respond to requests for comments Thursday night.

The National Association of Manufacturers, which represents 1,400 companies, said the ruling will help with “crucial, hard-to-fill jobs to support economic recovery, growth and innovation when we most need it.”

"Today's decision is a temporary win for manufacturers committed to building that innovation in the United States," said Linda Kelly, the group's senior vice president and general counsel. "A long-term win for manufacturers requires policymakers to support meaningful reforms to our immigration laws that recognize the critical link between smart immigration policy and America’s competitive advantage.”

With Congress and the White House deadlocked on immigration, Trump has reshaped the system on his own. The Migration Policy Institute recently catalogued more than 400 executive actions during his presidency to change policy, including border enforcement, asylum eligibility and vetting for visas.

Many of Trump's changes on immigration are being challenged in court. It is unclear how many Joe Biden would roll back if he defeats Trump in November's election or how quickly he would act.