How Trump’s visa suspension could affect California businesses, universities

H1-B visas are less used by startups because larger, established companies have an advantage in dealing with the time and cost of getting them. (Dreamstime/TNS)
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By Matt Kristoffersen The Sacramento Bee (TNS)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Mehmet Dogan expected to spend the next few months working for a University of California, Berkeley computational physics lab, crunching numbers, collaborating with other scientists and making up for losses from the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s latest executive proclamation, Dogan — a Turkish immigrant and a Yale graduate — must find a new way to convince the government that he deserves to stay in the United States.

Trump’s order promises to cut down on foreign competition for the jobs Americans have lost in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic by suspending certain types of visas until at least 2021. With unemployment at record highs, proponents say this would also give more time for the job market to recover for citizens.

But for universities and tech companies across the state that rely on these visas to attract the world’s top scientists, many fear Trump’s order could chill research and innovation — including studies on the coronavirus.

Dogan said he had planned to get his H-1B visa approved soon — an immigration pathway meant specifically for skilled workers. But Trump’s proclamation bars these and other visas for the rest of the year.

“H-1B was my Plan-A,” he said. “That’s now impossible.”

According to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, UC Berkeley ranks among the top employers in the state that use these visas. Last year, 145 were approved. If no additional visas are approved this year, that number for 2020 may not pass 50. Stanford University, another hotspot for H-1B visas, projects it could be affected, too.

“We are disappointed by this decision, which represents another step that contributes to the United States appearing unwelcoming to the best and brightest minds around the world,” Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement.

Trump’s proclamation has drawn ire from California’s top universities and business groups. Yet its potential effects spread further: The order suspends several other types of visas as well, including those made for interns, high-level corporate managers and seasonal workers.

All told, according to a senior administration official, the proclamation will free up as many as 525,000 jobs.

Tech giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook — which have a substantial presence in California — have all weighed in against the order as well, criticizing its potential impacts on skilled workers.

Billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Monday that he “very much” disagrees with the proclamation.

“In my experience, these skillsets are net job creators,” he wrote. “Visa reform makes sense, but this is too broad.”

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