In the space of four months, people who have legally migrated to the United States – or are trying to – have had their lives uprooted amid a litany of changes attributed to the pandemic. The abrupt changes have left immigrants and their families in limbo – confused, frustrated and struggling to sort through their next steps.
Parmi eux, Shreeya Thussu.
Just a few days ago, foreign companies and workers went through a similar state of concern, while many people trying to come to the United States with green cards learned that this would not be possible for the rest of year. And before that, the Trump administration largely prohibited migrants, including children and asylum seekers, from entering the United States.
Immigration advocates, lawyers and experts say there is no doubt that the administration is seizing the pandemic to reshape the immigration system, partly highlighting a series of recent changes that are blocking the highly skilled immigrants that the administration has repeatedly said it wants to come to the United States.
“You expect the administration’s program to be pushed aside during this massive economic and public health crisis, but it has instead been as aggressive if not more aggressive than ever,” said analyst Sarah Pierce policies at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
Those caught in the reticle suffer the consequences.
‘I was shocked’
The ICE announcement this week banning international students from taking online courses only in the United States surprised many people after the agency provided more flexibility in the spring.
“I was in shock,” Harvard University student Valeria Mendiola told CNN. “We plan our lives accordingly. We work very hard to get here, then this happens in the middle of our experience. ”
Visa requirements for students have always been strict and it is illegal to come to the United States to take online courses only. According to the rules, which officials say were designed to maximize flexibility, students can stay enrolled in universities offering online courses, but will not be allowed to do so and stay in the United States.
“If a school is not going to open or if they’re going to be 100% online, then we don’t expect people to be there for that,” said Ken Cuccinelli, assistant deputy secretary of homeland security, to Brianna Keilar from CNN.
Prior to the ICE announcement, Harvard had announced that all courses would be delivered online during the fall semester.
Mendiola says that she and other classmates are now pushing the university to reconsider and offer more education in person. If this does not happen, she fears that she will have no choice but to return to Mexico. This left her with a list of concerns that is increasing from hour to hour: what will happen to her apartment and the lease she has already signed? His furniture? His student loans?
“If I take a leave, I could lose all of my loans and all of my grants,” said Mendiola. “It is very difficult to get enough money to be here. ”
On Wednesday, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Trump administration for its advice.
Legal immigration almost stops
During the Trump presidency, the administration overhauled the U.S. immigration system, gutting asylum, reducing the number of refugee admissions to historically low levels, and severely restricting legal immigration, among other changes.
The coronavirus pandemic has further accelerated adjustments to the system that had previously struggled to gain momentum, such as largely banning the entry of asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border and the proposal to block asylum seekers for public health reasons.
“So far, during the pandemic, this administration has effectively ended asylum at the southern border,” said Pierce. “They have significantly reduced legal immigration, particularly family immigration, to the country. They effectively ended the diversity visa lottery and significantly reduced the number of temporary foreign workers entering the country. ”
In a pair of White House immigration proclamations issued in April and June, the administration suspended much of family immigration and a number of guest worker visas until the end of the year, with a few exceptions. The Migration Policy Institute has estimated that approximately 167,000 temporary workers will not be authorized in the United States and 26,000 green cards will be blocked each month.
As a result of the epidemic, consulates abroad had to close, making it almost impossible for people abroad to obtain visas. Since January, the number of non-immigrant visas issued has dropped 94%.
The ripple effects are very varied.
Nandini Nair, an immigration partner with the New Jersey-based law firm Greenspoon Marder, represents a range of companies, including technology, marketing and accounting companies, as well as medical and dental firms.
“I have companies that think that’s it; we are not going to move anyone, “said Nair.
Sandra Feist, a Minnesota-based immigration lawyer, similarly had human resource professionals reaching out on behalf of their companies, worried about the employees they were considering hiring. Feist recalled a conversation in which he was told that if the company could not send its chief operating officer to the United States, “it would be fatal for them.”
Much like the changes leading up to Monday’s announcement, some fear that the administration is setting the wrong tone and may encourage international students to start looking elsewhere. This may be the case for Vitor Possebom, a Brazilian who obtained his doctorate. in economics at Yale.
“Before, I would say that staying in the United States was my first option for my career,” he said. “Now, to be honest, Canada, Europe, New Zealand and Australia seem to be a much better choice. ”
Thussu, who had planned to apply to medical schools in the United States, said that she increasingly felt like the country where she wanted to build a future sees it as “disposable.”
“You hear stuff like that. This has been happening for some time, like the H-1B suspensions for the rest of this year that have been announced recently. “It was more and more frightening. … More and more, I don’t feel like at home. “