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Harvard Admins 'Disappointed' with Temporary Worker Visa Suspension

Harvard administrators reacted with dismay to an Executive Order signed Monday by President Donald J. Trump suspending temporary worker visas.
Harvard administrators reacted with dismay to an Executive Order signed Monday by President Donald J. Trump suspending temporary worker visas. By Charles K. Michael
By Camille G. Caldera and Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard administrators are “disappointed” with an executive order regarding certain visas signed Monday by President Donald J. Trump, per University Spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain.

The order suspends temporary worker visas — including H-1B visas for specialty workers, H-2B visas for temporary non-agricultural workers, and J-1 visas for exchange visitors — through the end of 2020.

“While the University appreciates that yesterday’s executive order does not affect student visas or Optional Practical Training (OPT), as an institution we are disappointed that the President’s order bans entry to certain new non-immigrant visa holders, including H-1B,” Swain wrote in an emailed statement. “In our view, this is a short-sighted policy that threatens scholarly engagement.”

University President Lawrence S. Bacow previously urged Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf to enact “forward-thinking immigration policies” in a June 2 letter. Bacow specifically asked them to maintain the Optional Practical Training, which permits students to use their visas to gain professional experience in their field of study in the United States.

The executive order is the latest in a series of controversial immigration and travel restrictions Trump has made since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School, wrote in an email that the Executive Order could impact Harvard affiliates in a variety of ways.

“If Harvard has a new employee overseas who planned to apply for an H-1B temporary work visa or an existing employee overseas trying to renew his or her H-1B visa, the new proclamation prevents that,” Yale-Loehr wrote.

“If a Harvard employee is in the United States on an H-1B visa but his or her spouse is overseas and planned to apply for an H-4 visa, the new proclamation prevents that,” he added. “The couple may be separated for a long time.”

Between October 2019 and March 2020, Harvard received certifications for 134 H-1B visas. Positions included postdoctoral fellows, research associates, and assistant professors. The University only provides H1-B sponsorship to administrative employees in “rare instances.” Numerous hospitals affiliated with Harvard Medical School also sponsor H1-B and J-1 visas for their medical residencies and fellowships.

Any international alumni applying for an H-1B visa to return to the United States to work will also be unable to for the remainder of 2020, Yale-Loehr wrote.

Swain said the significance of the order for Harvard extends beyond its direct impact, and to the “message” it sends.

“The University remains concerned that it sends a chilling message to the world’s best and brightest who seek to contribute their talent and energy to solving our world’s most persistent problems through scholarship and research at institutions here in the United States,” Swain wrote.

More than 42,000 H-1B visa positions were certified in Massachusetts in Fiscal Year 2016, according to the Department of Labor. Of Massachusetts cities, Cambridge boasted the second-most certifications after Boston, at nearly 3,000.

Sabrineh Ardalan — the Director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program — wrote in an email that the Executive Order seeks to ban individuals who are “critical” to the economy and “integral to our communities.”

“This proclamation is yet another example of the administration’s misguided efforts to scapegoat immigrants and shut down immigration in a political maneuver designed to distract from the administration’s failures to respond to the pandemic and to systemic racism,” Ardalan wrote.

The Harvard International Office wrote in a statement on its website that it is still waiting for additional information concerning “waivers of the proclamation” and “other details.”

“We will update our website as we learn more,” the statement reads. “We continue to strongly recommend that visa holders in the U.S. avoid all non-emergency international travel.”

—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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