Morning Brief

Targeting Foreign Workers, Trump Signs Sweeping Immigration Ban

The Trump administration fulfilled a long-held goal of halting various types of U.S. work visas under the guise of protecting American workers.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event  at the White House June 16, 2020 in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event at the White House June 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The United States extends sweeping immigration curbs, leaders from Russia, China, and India meet on border tensions, and Malawi reruns its 2019 presidential election.

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New U.S. Curbs Effectively Halt Immigration in Key Sectors

On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a new executive order that will cut U.S. immigration, albeit temporarily, on a scale not seen since he took office. The order extends a freeze on green card applicants outside the United States and now includes a range of temporary visas for seasonal workers and U.S. multinationals—especially tech firms.

In proclaiming the order, the White House cited a disputed claim, used often by the Trump administration, that foreign workers in the United States harm native workers. “We must remain mindful of the impact of foreign workers on the United States labor market, particularly in the current extraordinary environment of high domestic unemployment and depressed demand for labor,” the proclamation said.

The decision faced immediate criticism within Trump’s own Republican Party. “Those who believe legal immigration, particularly work visas, are harmful to the American worker do not understand the American economy,” Sen. Lindsey Graham wrote in a Twitter thread condemning the executive order. Graham said the visa shutdown would likely create “a drag on our economic recovery.”

Hundreds of thousands affected. The decision has the potential to affect hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, as well as disrupt hiring processes for U.S. companies. In 2018, the most recent year for which there are complete figures, over 500,000 green cards were granted to applicants not already living in the United States. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported 2.2 million employment authorization applications in 2019, and granted a further 500,000 visas for non-immigrant workers—who are now locked out due to the new executive order.

India worst hit. The decision to halt H1-B visas—traditionally used by large U.S. tech companies to hire workers from abroad—will hit Indian workers the most: Three out of four H1-B visa holders are Indian, according to a USCIS report.

Tampering with a “winning formula.” On June 18, FP’s Edward Alden wrote about how recent changes have made U.S. immigration hurdles go from “tall to nearly impassable.” If the United States is to keep pace with China on technological advancement, Alden argues, being a magnet for the world’s innovators is essential. “Unparalleled U.S. success in many areas of science and technology was built on attracting the world’s best talent, and then giving that talent the opportunity to build rewarding and often lucrative careers in the United States. The United States tampers with that winning formula at its own peril.

What We’re Following Today

Democratic foreign-policy leader on the ropes in New York. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel, is in danger of losing his seat in the U.S. Congress if today’s New York primary goes against him. Polls show Engel neck and neck with his challenger Jamaal Bowman. As Robbie Gramer and Jack Detsch report in Foreign Policy, the primary reflects deep divisions with the Democratic Party: Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have endorsed Bowman, whereas Hillary Clinton, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi have all endorsed Engel.

South Korea in second wave. The director of South Korea’s Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (KCDC) Jeong Eun-Kyeong has confirmed that the country is experiencing a second wave of coronavirus infections. South Korea had largely banished the virus in April only to see a spike in cases in early May. “We originally predicted that the second wave would emerge in fall or winter,” Jeong said. “Our forecast turned out to be wrong. As long as people have close contact with others, we believe that infections will continue.” South Korea’s daily number of new cases is still relatively low: the KCDC reported 17 new cases on June 22.

Saudi Arabia limits Hajj pilgrimage. Saudi Arabia has said the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca will still take place this year, albeit with a reduced number of pilgrims allowed and a ban on foreign arrivals. The Ministry for Hajj and Umrah said that numbers will be limited to the pilgrims “from all nationalities residing in Saudi Arabia only, who are willing to perform Hajj.” The Hajj pilgrimage—scheduled for the end of July—usually attracts roughly 2 million worshippers to Saudi Arabia each year.

Malawi decides. Voters in Malawi head to the polls today for a rerun of the country’s 2019 presidential election. Malawi’s constitutional court overturned last year’s election victory of incumbent Peter Mutharika, citing irregularities in the vote.

Trilateral talks. Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meet today via videoconference to discuss Indian-Chinese border tensions. The meeting is seen as another attempt to defuse tensions in the region following last week’s clashes in the Galwan valley between Indian and Chinese troops.

Keep an Eye On 

Ebola on the wane. Congolese health authorities are expected to declare the end of the world’s second-deadliest Ebola outbreak this week, as the 42-day threshold since the last confirmed case approaches. The outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has lasted 23 months and killed 2,280 people to date. It’s the first outbreak during which an Ebola vaccine was deployed from the beginning of the health crisis.

Cambodia’s next leader. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has led the country since 1985, has hinted that his son—34-year-old Hun Manet—may be next in line, should he ever decide to cede power. Hun Sen said that although his son is not the only person in consideration the role, “I have to support my son and train him so that he is capable [for this position]. If he cannot be like his father, at least his capacity should match that of his father by 80 or 90 percent.”

Scholz promises drama-free ECB resolution. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has said the clash between Germany’s constitutional court and the European Central Bank will soon see “a resolution without drama.” In early May, the German court had ordered an investigation into Germany’s participation in a European Union-wide 2.2 trillion euro bond buying program in order to show that the “economic and fiscal policy effects” of the program is within the bank’s remit. Scholz said the impasse is likely to be resolved this week. 

Odds and Ends

Verdant concert. Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house was reopened on Monday and filled to capacity for a special performance of the Uceli string quartet. However, the only humans in attendance were the performers on stage; 2,292 houseplants filled the seats instead. The concert was the brainchild of conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia, who came up with the idea after developing a closer relationship with his own plants during Spain’s strict lockdown. “I think that all these plants somehow know in their inner being, in their cells, their photosynthesis that they have been at this concert,” he said afterwards. The plants will now be donated to local health workers.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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