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Workplace implications of Trump’s immigration ban

David Jones

Guest columist

Published: February 6, 2017

On Friday, Jan. 27, President Trump signed a controversial executive order focusing on immigration issues.

Titled “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Entry into the United States by Foreign Nationals,” the order placed an immediate freeze on all entry for individuals from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Sudan for at least 90 days. Citizens from these seven countries already faced heightened scrutiny when obtaining visas, gaining refugee status or immigrating to the U.S. Additional countries may be added in the future.

The executive order also halts all refugee admission processing for at least 120 days, as well as the entry of Syrian refugees for the foreseeable future.

So far, the Trump administration has provided inconsistent information on whether Lawful Permanent Residents will be covered by the ban, although the Department of Homeland Security has stated it will admit permanent residents on a case-by-case basis and subject them to a thorough security review.

In addition, the order suspends the Visa Interview Waiver Program, which allowed consular officers to waive the interview requirement for applicants seeking to renew nonimmigrant visas within 12 months of initial expiration.

Not surprisingly, this executive order is already having a widespread, detrimental impact on the U.S. business sector, particularly in industries such as healthcare, technology, engineering and science that regularly recruit and employ talent from abroad. Although the executive order is being enforced across the nation, there is still a great deal of uncertainty among employers.

How will the immigration ban impact businesses?

An immediate impact will be the loss of employees who are unable to return to work. The healthcare and education sectors, which tend to rely more heavily on international talent, will likely feel the brunt of the impact. In fact, the U.S. depends largely on foreign physicians and nurses to address shortages in those fields and to provide care in medically-underserved areas.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there are currently 260 applicants for medical residencies from the seven banned countries, and one quarter of U.S. physicians are foreign medical graduates.

Just last week, a Cleveland Clinic doctor of Sudanese origin has already been denied reentry into the U.S. upon returning from an overseas trip. Likewise, the ban will impact international collaboration among scholars who may no longer be able to meet with their counterparts abroad – likely creating a chilling effect that will ultimately discourage researchers, physicians and other talented individuals from coming to the U.S. altogether.

The executive order will also affect decision-making regarding international business travel.

Anyone from a predominantly Muslim country could potentially be banned from U.S. entry, so traveling is too risky.

Additionally, although U.S. citizens who travel to those countries aren’t banned from reentry to the U.S., it’s conceivable they could nevertheless face heightened scrutiny and reciprocal treatment when traveling to one of the seven banned countries. Iran, for example, has already stated that it will ban U.S. citizens.

Lastly, given the Visa Interview Waiver Program’s suspension, along with increased scrutiny in general, visa wait times throughout the world are likely to increase, leading to delays for individuals trying to renew their visas. These delays need to be taken into account when planning international business travel.

What steps can employers take to protect affected workers?

Several courts have entered injunctions against the executive order, one of which from Boston enjoined the entire order for seven days.

Employers should take advantage of this to help get employees who are affected by the ban back into the U.S. They should also be aware that employees may encounter issues attempting to board planes overseas, where airlines may not understand the current status of the executive order.

In addition, employees may face heightened scrutiny when entering the U.S., so employers should prepare workers to answer any questions about their visa, purpose of coming to the U.S. and their travel abroad. It’s advisable for employment visa holders to bring a proof of employment as well.

Employers should also be aware of employees’ specific travel plans so they can be alerted to any problems that may arise.

Individuals from the seven countries should not leave the U.S., until there is more certainty about what lies ahead for the ban.

Those from other predominantly Muslim countries should weigh the risk of traveling outside the U.S. and avoid international travel unless it’s a case of emergency.

Individuals needing to get visa stamps should be prepared for the possibility that there could be a several-week delay in getting the visa issued and plan travel accordingly.

Additionally, visa holders should be careful to document that they are, and will be, in compliance with their visas. For work visa holders, this means carrying copies of their applications, pay records and letters from employers at all times.

David Jones is an attorney in the Global Immigration Practice Group of Fisher Phillips, a national management-side labor and employment law firm. He practices exclusively in the area of immigration and related employment and compliance matters.