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Exec Order Suspends Certain Work Visas

Thursday, June 25, 2020

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On Monday (June 22), President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order suspending several types of temporary worker visas and green cards for foreign workers until the end of the year.

The decision arrives as a means to create jobs for unemployed Americans affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 COVID-19 Industry Effects, Unemployment

In an attempt to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—many businesses and their workers experienced economic shut downs, social distancing, public health measures and other extensive disruptions as required to flatten the curve of COVID-19 since the outbreak in March.

From halting construction and infrastructure projects to a variety of canceled or postponed industry events, PaintSquare Daily News covered a variety of stories on how the pandemic was affecting the nation’s well-being, as well as updated health and safety guidelines, workplace guides, loan programs, and what some companies were doing to try and help.

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On Monday (June 22), President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order suspending several types of temporary worker visas and green cards for foreign workers until the end of the year.

By April, the Associated General Contractors of America announced that it had released a survey on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the construction industry. In the survey, conducted March 23-25, 45% of the 1,640 respondents reported experiencing project delays or disruptions.

At the time, other findings included:

  • 23% - report shortages of material, parts and equipment, including vital personal protective equipment for workers such as respirators;
  • 18% reported shortages of craftworkers;
  • 16% said projects were delayed by shortages of government workers needed for inspections, permits and other actions;
  • 13% said delay or disruption had occurred because a potentially infected person had visited a jobsite; and
  • 35% of firms said suppliers had notified them or their subcontractors that some deliveries would be - delayed or canceled.

On the flip side, 8% of firms did report they have added new work expanding health care and other facilities needed to respond to the growing health crisis.

The same month, building materials and construction industry insights company Principia also released tracked information on how COVID-19 was impacting lumber and building materials, residential construction activity, new construction activity and building product demand.

A few takeaways were:

  • Under our initial baseline scenario, approximately 11% of nationwide construction activity for 2020 is lost; and
  • Due to a high number of states with most construction prohibited, the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions have the highest percentage loss of activity under most scenarios.

In terms of residential construction:

  • 4% of projected construction activity is in municipalities not currently under any legal restriction;
  • 17% of projected activity is currently in municipalities that are prohibiting most forms of construction; and
  • 32% of multifamily activity falls within localities prohibiting most construction.

Prior the end of the month, AGC released the results of a new survey, which included 830 respondents and was conducted April 6-9, finding that as the pandemic has worsened, nearly 40% of firms had been forced to lay off employees. Officials added that 74% sought loans from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program and urged Congress to add more funding.

“Owners are not only halting many current construction projects but are canceling a growing number of projects that have not yet started,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist, at the time. “Inevitably, that has caused a growing number of contractors to furlough or terminate jobsite workers.”

Simonson noted that that 53% of firms reported that they had been directed to cancel current projects or ones scheduled to start within 30 days of the survey. There was also an increase in owner-canceled projects—up 7% to 19%.

The following month, AGC looked at unemployment within the industry, reporting that construction employment declined by 975,000 (13%) jobs in April—a drop that the AGC calls the worst one-month decline ever.

The data from the survey as well as from construction technology firm Procore shows the “deteriorating demand for construction,” officials said, highlighting the “need for new federal measures to help the construction industry recover.”

This month, financial services company Moody’s Corporation released an outlook on how the construction industry should still be preparing for further delays as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the report titled “Downturns, Construction Delays and the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Economics of Supply Growth in the Age of Coronavirus,” the analysis suggests that the halt in work from the global health crisis will further and exacerbate delays that already exist in the construction industry.

Moody’s projected a few outlooks for the different sectors, which include:

  • Multifamily – the latest estimate comes it at fewer than 246,000 units (Moody’s had originally predicted more than 300,000 units);
  • Office – not many delays reported as more and more people are working remotely; in fact, Moody’s expects vacancies to rise;
  • Retail – saw a 15.7% decrease in retail projects, which were already on the downturn because of online shopping; and
  • Industrial – while some aspects of industrial building (such as warehouses) could see an uptick, overall Moody’s expects industrial space to total *9.3 million square feet this year, which was originally predicted at 120 million square feet.

However, on a lighter note, AGC announced earlier this week that construction activity had returned to pre-COVID-19 levels in 34 states.

The numbers, which come from a new AGC survey and data from construction technology firm Procore, also show that some future projects and being canceled and that others are delayed because of supply chain issues and labor shortages.

(The association’s new survey is based on responses from over 630 firms collected between June 9 and 17. Procore’s data is based on the transactions logged via the company’s software by construction firms across the country.)

In addition to the 34 states, construction has also reached pre-pandemic levels in Dallas and Miami in terms of large metro areas. Meanwhile, the AGC survey found that just 8% of firms were forced to layoff or furlough workers in June while 21% added employees.

Although, AGC added that while 17% anticipating adding workers in the next four weeks, 42% do not expect demand to recover to normal levels for at least a few months and many are still relaying on federal aid.

“Without additional help from D.C., the few gains this industry has made during the past few weeks will likely be fleeting,” Simonson added. “That is why we will continue to push Congress and the Trump administration to enact the kind of long-term economic recovery measures this industry needs to truly rebound from the coronavirus.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, over 20 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits as of the week ending June 13.

Work Visa Suspension

In Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak, Trump has announced that certain temporary worker visas and green cards would be suspended until the end of the year, but could be extended.

The announcement follows Proclamation 10014 of April 22 (Suspension of Entry of Immigrants Who Present a Risk to the United States Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak), which suspended the entry of aliens as immigrants, subject to certain exceptions, for 60 days.

“American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy, including against millions of aliens who enter the United States to perform temporary work,” states the proclamation. “Temporary workers are often accompanied by their spouses and children, many of whom also compete against American workers. 

“Under ordinary circumstances, properly administered temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy. 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.”

The order went into effect yesterday (June 23) and applies to H-1B visas for those in specialized fields like the technology sector, most H-2B visas for non-agricultural seasonal workers and H-4 visas. However, CBS reports that cultural exchange J-1 visas for au pairs and other short-term workers, visas for spouses of H-1B and H-2B holders and L visas for companies to relocate employees to the U.S. will also be restricted.

The proclamation states that it won’t affect applicants already in the U.S. or those abroad who have already been issued a visa. Additionally, professors and scholars using J-1 visas and prospective H-2B visa holders looking to work in the food processing industry will not be affected by the proclamation.

While the President writes that H-1B, H-2B, J and L nonimmigrant visa programs threaten Americans seeking employment in the presence of COVID-19 disruptions, others suggest that the decision was made to appease those who have pushed for stronger measures to protect American jobs while the economy recovers.

In favor of the order, Dan Stein, President of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said in a statement, “For the most part, the president withstood intense pressure from powerful business interests that continue to demand more cheap foreign labor, even as they have laid-off an unprecedented number of American workers over the past three months.

"We fully expect that the agencies charged with carrying out this Proclamation in furtherance of the president’s intent to aid struggling American workers will resist pressure from corporate lobbyists to abuse their discretionary authority.”

However, while Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute who agrees with the action, feels that the programs require further examination.

“It's definitely overdue that we have an examination of these programs and their effect on the U.S. job market, but that doesn't mean that wholesale suspending them suddenly is going to be beneficial to U.S. workers—and it is certainly not going to be beneficial to employers,” said Pierce.

"I don't think that the administration would get away with this if it weren't for the pandemic.”

The new order both adds the visa restrictions and approves a continuation of Proclamation 10014, ultimately expiring on Dec. 31, but may be continued as necessary.

View all PaintSquare Daily News' COVID-19 coverage, here.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Business management; Business matters; COVID-19; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Government; Industry News; Latin America; North America; President Trump; Program/Project Management; Workers; Z-Continents

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