On October 1, 2020, a U.S. district judge ruled in NAM v. DHS against aspects of President Trump’s June 22, 2020, proclamation that effectively blocked visa issuance to many foreign workers.

More specifically, the proclamation prevented visa issuance to intracompany transferees (L-1A and L-1B), skilled workers in specialty occupations (H-1B), seasonal nonagricultural laborers responding to proven domestic labor shortages (H-2B), and certain exchange visitors in work-study programs (J). The plaintiffs include Intrax, Inc. (a leading operator of cultural exchange programs), the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, and TechNet. Collectively, the plaintiffs’ members include hundreds of thousands of U.S. businesses of all sizes and a variety of economic sectors.

Among other things, the court rejected the government’s position that the Presidential Proclamation implicated the President’s foreign affairs powers simply because it affects immigration. The court noted that this Proclamation deals with a purely domestic economic issue – the loss of employment during a national pandemic – and that in domestic economic matters, the national security and foreign affairs justifications for policy implementations disappear, and normal policy-making channels are the default, which includes the traditional pathway of public rulemaking. Indeed, the court said, “there must be some measure of constraint on Presidential authority in the domestic sphere in order not to render the executive an entirely monarchical power in the immigration context, an area within clear legislative prerogative.”

The court also noted that the Proclamation at issue nullified significant portions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by declaring invalid statutorily established visa categories in their entirety for the remainder of this calendar year and indefinitely beyond that deadline. “Until, at a minimum, the end of the year, the Proclamation simply eliminates H-1B, H-2B, L-1, and J-1 visas and nullifies the statutes creating those visa categories,” the court noted, “and rewrites the carefully delineated balance between protecting American workers and the need of American businesses to staff their operations with skilled, specialized, and temporary workers.” The court said that the work visa provisions of the INA set out a “finely reticulated statutory scheme” that “reflects a set of legislative judgments that the entry of international workers is in the national interest provided they enter the market under the specific terms and conditions provided by the statute.” The court found that the President’s “wholesale elimination of categories of workers does not supplement this legislative judgment but rather explicitly supplants it by refusing admission to all categories of foreign workers.”

The court granted the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction pending trial in this action or further order of the court. The scope of relief applies only to the named plaintiffs and their members. Some practitioners advise employers to consider joining NAM or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to gain relief under the injunction. The government is expected to appeal.

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