Ricardo Alcalá has been a Gator for the past five years. Now, his future in the United States is in question.
Originally from Mexico, the 35-year-old UF Ph.D. plant pathology student is on an F-1 visa, which allows him to be a full-time student in the U.S. He is graduating in December and planned to change his lawful status from an F-1 to an H-1B visa, which gives legal status to skilled workers. He hoped to find a postdoctoral position in the United States, he added.
Alcalá said that staying in the country seems no longer possible after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 22, which extended the previous freeze on green cards, a permit allowing immigrants to legally reside in the country, and suspended work visas until Dec. 31.
“I wasn't planning on moving in six months,” Alcalá said, “It’s gonna be complicated.”
The order will prevent individuals from getting new immigration visas, which are usually sponsored by a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, immediate relative or prospective U.S. employer. This will also put a hold on nonimmigrant visas like H-1B and J visas, which allow foreigners to work and remain in lawful status in the U.S.
According to the order, U.S. citizens’ children under age 21, spouses, health-care workers and people who provide temporary labor of essential services, such as agriculture workers, to the U.S. food supply chain, are exempt.
The freeze protects unemployed U.S. citizens from competing against foreigners for jobs in the economy amid the pandemic, according to the order.
Laura DePaz Cabrera, a managing partner at George and Cabrera Immigration Attorneys, a full service immigration law firm in Gainesville, said that before employers begin the process of petitioning a visa for their employees—from inside or outside the country—employers must prove to the U.S. Department of Labor that no U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident candidate is available, qualified, ready, willing and able to take the job position.
“So it's a huge misconception that I think the administration is very much taking advantage of when they say, ‘We're protecting American jobs’,” said Cabrera. “But in fact, no, you're not.”
Cabrera said she has become desensitized to these changes since the current administration took office, because there have been a lot of drastic changes to the immigration system, such as the Muslim ban that included countries like Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria in March 2017.
Cabrera said that since mid-March, most of the consular posts, offices across the world where people get the immigrant visa stamp in their passport, were already shut down due to the pandemic. People living outside the U.S. who are eligible for an immigrant visa must get a physical immigrant stamp into their passports to immigrate to the U.S., Cabrera said.
The Alachua County Human Rights Coalition, a non-profit organization based in Gainesville that defends and promotes human rights, works with people who will now not be able to get a new visa because their current visa will expire soon, Elizabeth Ibarrola, director of immigration concerns, said.
Ibarrola also said that people working at the coalition, who planned to finish their degree and stay in the U.S. under a different kind of visa, will be affected. The coalition is looking for ways in which they could help,but could not specify specific measures yet, she added.
“The order ignores specialized skills that people from other countries bring to the United States,” Ibarrola said. “They've committed to helping to serve, to helping other people in our area. Now they are being denied their status.”
Cabrera said she has not seen the order fully take effect yet in her practice. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued green cards last week to some of her clients already in the U.S., she said.
However, Cabrera said she has not seen any of her client’s interviews rescheduled for green card marriage-based cases, which are required to get a green card.
In Gainesville, Cabrera said she has seen a lot of uncertainty and a lot of fear. She has clients, she said, who are worried about rumors that the government will completely suspend visas altogether from posts they have read on Google, Facebook and other social media regarding the executive order.
In the past, Cabrera said she would usually tell clients who feared deportation in the Gainesville community to not worry. But, now she doesn't feel comfortable doing the same because immigration policy has consistently been changing since 2016, like the order restricting immigration from Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania, which began on Feb 21.
“What we've seen with this administration, by these executive actions and orders and proclamations, is that we get very little notice, and we have no idea what they say until they say it,” Cabrera added.
Trump’s executive order said it may continue past Dec. 31 as necessary.