Michigan auto, business groups pan Trump's halt on foreign workers

Michigan’s automobile industry is among several business sectors that depend on highly skilled foreign workers. President Trump’s suspension of new work visas will likely hamper the state’s ability to recover from an economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic, industry experts said. (Shutterstock)

President Trump’s halt on foreign visas undercuts Michigan’s automotive industry and software firms who rely on high-skilled foreign workers and could hamper their recovery from the economic downturn, industry advocates warn.

Trump’s sweeping executive order, issued Monday, blocks visas until the end of the year for a wide variety of jobs, including computer programmers and engineers who enter the country under H-1B visas.

It also suspends visas for seasonal workers in the hospitality industry, students on work-study summer programs and foreign specialty workers who transfer within companies.

“If southeast Michigan can no longer get the kind of talent that is needed to run the automotive industry, that has repercussions all across the Michigan economy,” Steve Tobocman, executive director of Global Detroit, a regional economic development organization, told Bridge Magazine.

“The repercussions of this act will be felt for years to come.”

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 4,350 new H-1Bs were approved for Michigan in fiscal 2019, with more than 9,000 H-1Bs already in place.

While Trump administration officials tout the move as a jobs-saving measure for American workers, Tobocman asserted that it’s a myth that qualified Americans are being held back from filling many of these high-tech jobs.

“They don’t exist. Every Ph.D. mathematician that wants a job has a job. We just don’t have enough [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] workers,” he said.

The Detroit Regional Chamber sounded similar concerns over the measure’s impact at a critical time for economic recovery.

“The fact that we are going through a significant economic downturn does not stop the march of technology and competitive pressures,” Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah told Bridge.

“If you think of things like the development of autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence, all of that competitive work is still going on across the globe. Just because we are in a pandemic, does not mean those pressures stop.

“Those talent holes need to be filled.”

Bridge reached out to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, but did not hear back.

National business groups, including some normal Trump allies, denounced the measure as well.

“As the economy rebounds, American businesses will need assurances that they can meet all their workforce needs. To that end, it is crucial that they have access to talent both domestically and from around the world,” said Thomas J. Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Restrictive changes to our nation’s immigration system will push investment and economic activity abroad, slow growth, and reduce job creation.”


BSA, a group that represents major software companies, urged the administration to reconsider, particularly changes to the H-1B program, saying they will hinder economic recovery by making it harder to fill critical positions.

“Filling these roles that are more abundant than the number of U.S. employees qualified to fill them means these jobs can be kept in the U.S.," the group said. "This allows companies based in the U.S. to remain globally competitive, which in turn boosts the U.S. economy, creating jobs for millions of Americans."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina stated that Trump’s executive order would limit the nation’s economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“This decision, in my view, will have a chilling effect on our economic recovery at a time we should be doing all we can to restore the economy,” Graham said in a series of tweets.

“Legal immigration is a positive for the American economy, and visa programs allowing American companies to secure qualified, legal labor throughout the world have benefitted economic growth in the United States.”

The measures expand Trump’s April 22 executive order denying green cards to applicants in several immigrant visa categories. Immigration hardliners said that didn’t go far enough.

The new moves impose the kind of stern immigration restrictions that Trump adviser Stephen Miller and other immigration hard-liners have pushed for years.

“This is a bold move by the Trump administration to protect American jobs,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restrictions. “Not all the items on our checklist of needed actions are included in today’s announcement, but the corporate lobbyists who were desperately fighting for exceptions to protect their clients’ access to cheap foreign labor have largely been rebuffed."

Glenn Stevens

“Global companies are always on a hunt for talent and they will shift their operations to where the talent is,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto. (Courtesy photo)

But a Michigan automotive sector advocate said the measure will only make things tougher for the Big Three and their supply chain.

“Global companies are always on a hunt for talent and they will shift their operations to where the talent is,” Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto, a branch of the Detroit Regional Chamber, told Bridge.

“Just like the automotive company supply chain is very complex, so is the human capital supply chain. You have a variety of skills to do research and development and build modern vehicles.

“Those talents come from all over the world.”

An immigration law specialist said Trump’s halt on intra-company transfers of foreign visa holders – known as L-1 visas – could pose an additional drag on Michigan firms.

“It’s going to have a significant effect,” said Nina Thekdi, a Novi-based attorney who specializes in non-immigrant visa applications, for firms ranging from Fortune 500 companies to startups.

Immigration law specialist Nina Thekdi said Trump’s visa halt will have a “significant effect” on Michigan businesses. (Courtesy photo)

“I work with a lot of [firms] who have been waiting for people to come in, particularly on L-1 visas. They are waiting to fill the jobs and now they are being told they can’t bring them in until the end of the year.”

L-1 visas encompass both high-level managerial positions and “specialized knowledge workers” that include engineering and information technology positions.

Thekdi said Michigan firms would not seek these foreign workers if they didn’t need their expertise.

“This is a very expensive and time-consuming process to go through for any employer. It’s years and years of legal fees and filing fees. It’s because there is a shortage in the labor field.”

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View From Kzoo
Wed, 06/24/2020 - 7:26am

Please tell both sides of the story. Here is an excerpt from the IEEE Spectrum which explains why U.S. companies love to import guest workers to displace highly skilled and educated U.S. workers:
"What’s the difference? Infosys, Cognizant, Wipro, and Tata are all outsourcing companies. Their business model involves using H-1B visas to bring low-cost workers into the United States and then renting those workers to other companies. Their competitive advantage is price. That is, they make their money by renting their workers for less than companies would have to pay American workers
This is the real story of the H-1B visa. It is a tool used by companies to avoid hiring American workers, and avoid paying American wages. For every visa used by Google to hire a talented non-American for $126,000, ten Americans are replaced by outsourcing companies paying their H-1B workers $65,000."

Wed, 06/24/2020 - 3:29pm

You are correct. A close friend says she has had to train people with visa and then they go back to their home country and work for about 1/2 her wage.

View From Kzoo
Thu, 06/25/2020 - 11:31am

Yes. I have family members who have had to train their H1B replacements. The guest worker program is a disgrace and should have ended long ago, however, President Trump is the first / only President to do anything about it.

Wed, 06/24/2020 - 10:20am

Of course business loves H1B visas. The crop of visa holders is a free ride for the company as the holders are willing to accept less pay than a comparable American would. And the holy grail is contract workers. No benefits, and get them off the payroll as soon as the project is near completion. Fifty years ago, there was loyalty between worker and employer. Today it doesn't exist.

Wed, 06/24/2020 - 10:35am

Republicans starve Michigan of sufficient school funding to hire and keep capable teachers, purchase effective instruction materials, even maintain the buildings. They support Trump and DeVos, who prefer even lousy religious and for-profit schools to successful public ones. As a result, Michigan has insufficient STEM talent, so businesses must hire foreign workers. But then, Republicans support Trump's efforts to shut that spigot. It doesn't make sense.

Steve Smewing
Wed, 06/24/2020 - 11:02am

Writing an article about business just for the sympathy of the knowledge is not genuine and is not going to help anyone but those who exploit the system to drive labor costs to the lowest possible point. Trump is right about this. This topic has been a talking point of Trump for decades. Many people have only paid attention to Trump as a candidate and then President. But, Trump has had consistently bashed Visa workers all his life as nothing more than a business being exploitive of a bad system for filling jobs with cheap foreign workers and not hiring just as skilled Americans that are just as available as the foreign workers. Trump has always been a pro-American worker his whole life.
Whenever a business says that they cannot get American workers to work for them that actually means that the business can get cheap labor so it avoids paying what it would take to employ an American citizen.
When a business says that the jobs they have are of special talents and skills and that the only way they can fill them is by using foreign workers, that again means they can hire cheaper foreign labor. Thus they are avoided entering the American labor market. Tech jobs in nearly all cases can be located anywhere a hub is built. With this latitude for location, the argument for using foreign workers as "necessary" is pretty disingenuous and frankly not honest.
There are ALWAYS American workers available for any given job when the job and the compensation meet the laws of supply and demand.
There are ALWAYS skilled workers in America when the skills needed match with the laws of supply and demand.
In my local area, a business opened and needed skills that were actually brand new skills. Working with the local community college the business started a talent program. This program was very successful. There were more applicants than jobs. This story would be true anywhere in America where the conditions are right.

Wed, 06/24/2020 - 12:05pm

Trump isn't doing this for the benefit of American labor; he is extremely transparent in his indifference to the struggle of American workers (despite his rhetoric, the policy decisions coming out of this administration have been terrible for the average worker). He's doing this to placate his nativist base. If he actually cared about American workers, he would give teeth to the regulatory statutes that discourage outsourcing labor, rather than putting a blanket ban on these visas.

Wed, 06/24/2020 - 3:24pm

If Education were truly EDUCATION and not a feel good, everyone gets a trophy, happy faces, sort of system we would have engineers and techs and so on! Common knowledge is that 95% of journalists are Dems and that percentage probably holds true for Edu. too. They do not teach cursive, multiplication tables, nor any sort of rote memorization which trains the mind on how to study. They do, though, teach the social skills on display today in DC and Minn and Wash. How about those 6 districts in Baltimore that could only come up with 1 kid doing grade level work in math and reading. Where are we headed as a country????

View From Kzoo
Thu, 06/25/2020 - 11:34am

Exactly! I am a teacher in a local government school district. Everything you say is true. Add social promotion to the agenda and you have a recipe for disaster. Promote kids for not having mastered anything. What a great idea. Just send them on to the next grade. . .

middle of the mit
Fri, 06/26/2020 - 8:22pm

If we had an actual everyone gets a trophy, happy faces sort of system........wouldn't there be a lot of people "qualified" for those jobs in America?
Instead we allow foreigners to come here to get an American Education and then work on a VISA program to undermine our workers. Because there are a LOT of people that could do the job, but can't afford to take on the debt to get the education and America isn't going to invest in it's workers like it did after WWII.

And who is it that are the actual Globalists?

And what does writing in cursive have to do with anything, when the name of the game now is texting and typing? This isn't 17th century calligraphy. And you would be hard pressed to read a LOT of peoples hand writing....especially in cursive. And the math the kids know now, why, isn't that the problem today? Parents haven't kept up with the work and can't teach their own kids these things.

If you aren't wearing a mask when you go out in public, You are uninformed, or under educated. You refuse to believe those who have more education than you do. If you believe they are lying to you, why would you go to a doctor for anything?

And then you call them dems and leftists.

Sr. IT Recruiter
Thu, 06/25/2020 - 1:33am

The autos want cheap IT talent. Sometimes they use H1Bs, other times they underpay U.S. Citizens. Only in Michigan can you have a degree in CS and live in poverty at entry-level. Especially in cybersecurity. There is a brain drain because you can go to another state and make more money. You can't actually afford to get by until you're mid or sr level, and you're still better off living somewhere else. The autos have created their own shortage and then filled it with H1Bs. I'm glad they're cut off and I wish it was permanent.