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Trump to cut 525,000 foreign guest-workers to speed coronavirus jobs recovery

President Trump unleashed American workers to begin the coronavirus recovery Monday, announcing a series of immigration moves that will block hundreds of thousands of new foreign workers the rest of this year and push businesses to offer better pay to those who do come in the future. Defying the Washington consensus that has long supported…

Trump to cut 525,000 foreign guest-workers to speed coronavirus jobs recovery

President Trump unleashed American workers to begin the coronavirus recovery Monday, announcing a series of immigration moves that will block hundreds of thousands of new foreign workers the rest of this year and push businesses to offer better pay to those who do come in the future.

Defying the Washington consensus that has long supported higher immigration, Mr. Trump said he’s betting on American workers to lead the country out of the coronavirus-induced slump.

He issued a proclamation tripling the size of his immigration pause, blocking about 525,000 visas that would have been issued over the next six months and, he hopes, saving those spaces for Americans.

His administration also took steps to stop awarding work permits to migrants who entered the U.S. illegally and then claimed asylum or lodged a plea for some other special treatment. Currently they can apply to work while their cases are pending, which Trump aides said creates an incentive to game the system.

The president also directed his administration to pursue new regulations to raise salaries for guest-workers who come on high-skilled H-1B visas, and to tighten the rules so companies can’t oust Americans and then replace them with H-1B workers to do the same job.

“The point here is to put American workers first when businesses are rehiring,” Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, told The Washington Times.

Activists called it a historic moment, saying no president in modern times has so closely linked immigration policy to an economic recovery.

“This is a bold move and it’s an absolutely necessary move,” said Rosemary Jenks, vice president at NumbersUSA. “No matter where you are on the skill level, you’re going to have a better opportunity to find your next job — whether you are lower-skilled and looking for a job in landscaping or construction, or whether you have some kind of STEM degree or are looking for a white-collar job.”

But business and technology interest groups said the move would backfire, sapping the economy of foreign work it needs to grow.

“The Trump administration should stop trying to create and exploit crises to enact the largest cuts to legal immigration in a century,” said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us. “This is deeply harmful to America.”

Immigrant-rights groups, meanwhile, complained the move was meant to distract from the president’s coronavirus response, and called it evidence of “racism and white supremacy.”

But the White House said it is those on the lower economic rungs — including African Americans and Hispanics — who stand to benefit the most, since they are most likely to compete with guest workers.

Congressional Democrats were largely silent on the president’s moves Monday, and administration officials said that was no surprise.

“These are the kinds of things people on the other side of the aisle have supported in the past,” Mr. Cuccinelli told The Times.

The H-1B visa and other guest-worker programs have long been targets for the likes of Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, a leading Democratic voice on immigration, or Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, the party’s runner-up for its presidential nomination the last two times.

Monday’s order expands Mr. Trump’s original immigration pause, announced two months ago, which blocked about 25,000 green cards, or permanent legal migrants, each month.

At the time, Mr. Trump didn’t touch any of the temporary worker programs. Instead he ordered Homeland Security and the Labor Department to examine more options, and Monday’s announcement was the result.

For the rest of the year, the administration will curtail issuance of H-1B visas, supposed to be used by high-skilled workers; H-2B visas, meant for seasonal non-agriculture work such as landscaping or resort workers; H-4 visas, which allow family of H-1B employees to also work; J visas for exchange programs, such as au pairs; and L visas that facilitate intra-company transfers.

That’s in addition to continuing the pause on most green cards.

There are limited exceptions for people deemed critical to national security or to the coronavirus recovery.

As big as those changes are, they are short-term, meant to create openings during the coronavirus recovery.

The long-term changes could reshape the way tech companies operate, forcing them to look first to American workers and to raise wages for those foreign workers they do still hire, creating an upward push on pay overall.

To do that, Homeland Security will propose a rewrite of how H-1B visas are doled out. Currently they are issued by lottery, and 225,000 applications were submitted for 85,000 slots last year. Under the new proposal, the highest-paying 85,000 jobs will get visas.

The result will be upward pressure on wages — and soul-searching at the companies that make the most use of the program.

“Employers will actually have to ask themselves how much do I really want this foreign worker, as opposed to hiring an American worker,” Ms. Jenks said.

The administration also will issue new regulations requiring that the minimum pay be at least 50% of the local prevailing wage, which could tamp down on businesses trying to use the visas to cut costs by avoiding American workers.

And officials said the Labor Department will begin investigating complaints of companies that abuse the H-1B program.

Michael Clemens, an immigration economist at the Center for Global Development, said the notion that H-1B workers compete with Americans is an economic fiction.

“This mindless ban will show the world’s best and brightest that the United States is no place for them,” he said. “Some of the damage will be permanent.”

For years, academics have debated the actual effects of foreign migrant competition. They’re about to get a very real-world test.

The Seasonal Employment Alliance, a trade group for businesses that use H-2B workers, says it has already been conducting its own tests.

During coronavirus the SEA has been running online ads in major markets linking to a jobs bank with thousands of openings, at an average wage of $15 an hour. The SEA says it gets hundreds of thousands of eyeballs each week, but the applications aren’t rolling in.

Mr. Cuccinelli, though, said those companies need to pay better.

“There are workers out there,” he said. “The pay isn’t meeting the demand. Given the unemployment rate, I would think those two would come together.”

The administration is also using this moment to complete a long-standing quest to block illegal immigrants from gaming the system by claiming asylum then applying for work permits while their cases proceed.

Under new rules being published in the Federal Register later this week, those who win asylum will get work permits. But the vast majority fail to win their cases, yet have been granted years of work permission in the interim.

Those changes take effect later this summer.

Left out of the president’s immigration pause is the EB-5 visa, also known as the “golden visa” because it allows wealthy foreigners to buy into the pathway to citizenship for a minimum investment of $900,000, which will continue. The Chinese are the biggest users of the program, which is rife with fraud.

Mr. Cuccinelli said as an investor program, EB-5 can create jobs in the U.S., so it makes sense to keep it going to help fuel the recovery.

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Trump foreign policy moves at stake in election

President Trump wants to dramatically reshuffle U.S. forces in Europe to chastise Germany for not spending enough on defense, but that and a range of other foreign policy pushes by the president are likely to fall by the wayside if presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden wins the White House in November. Mr. Biden would…

Trump foreign policy moves at stake in election

President Trump wants to dramatically reshuffle U.S. forces in Europe to chastise Germany for not spending enough on defense, but that and a range of other foreign policy pushes by the president are likely to fall by the wayside if presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden wins the White House in November.

Mr. Biden would seek to cancel a slate of key Trump initiatives, including the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear and Paris climate deals, as well as the planned U.S. exit from the World Health Organization, political analysts say.

While speculation is rampant over how the Democrat might overhaul Mr. Trump’s aggressive policy toward China, military insiders say there is little doubt the former vice president would move quickly on the Europe troop realignment issue with the goal of stopping it dead in its tracks.

Pentagon leaders have made it abundantly clear that they intend to move with great caution. They stress that it will take many months to pull nearly 12,000 troops from Germany, move U.S. European Command headquarters from Stuttgart to Mons, Belgium, and take other steps outlined by the Defense Department last month.

The slow process could create a key window of opportunity for Mr. Biden, who likely would cancel — or at least delay and review — many of the Europe moves as part of a broader effort to repair bruised relationships between the U.S. and NATO partners. Such a move would allow the former vice president to put an immediate stamp on military and international affairs.

Specialists say that while Pentagon officials may not be actively slow-walking Mr. Trump’s orders, they may be counting on the creaky wheels of bureaucracy to buy them some time in case the next president abruptly changes course.

“There’s a lot of steps to be taken first, and there’s a lot of planning that’s got to be done and monies that have to be found and negotiations to be done,” said Jim Townsend, who was deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy during the Obama administration.

“This isn’t going to happen tomorrow,” Mr. Townsend said. “A lot of times, the people in the system who know this is bollocks, they know it’s going to take a while … and they’re relying on the system to kill it.

“It will be slow-walked,” he added, “but not because they’re doing it on purpose.”

Other aggressive Trump foreign policy shifts, such as the American withdrawal from several key international defense treaties and a planned U.S. exit from the World Health Organization, could be reversed in just the first few weeks of a hypothetical Biden presidency.

Analysts say Mr. Biden and his foreign policy team would seek quickly to resurrect American participation in the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal — two landmark accomplishments of the Obama administration that Mr. Trump has scrapped.

The former vice president also would reexamine the administration’s China policy, though it’s not clear exactly how Mr. Biden would handle the complex relationship between Washington and Beijing.

U.S. troops in Europe

As part of the Trump administration’s policy announced last month, the number of U.S. troops in Germany will drop from 36,000 to about 24,000. Some of the forces will return home, some will move to Italy and some will rotate farther east to better protect NATO’s border with Russia.

Officials cast the plan as the result of careful consideration and a desire to modernize America’s military footprint in Europe. But Mr. Trump made no secret of the real motivation, undercutting careful efforts by Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other Pentagon officials to cast the policy as the right move for U.S. national security.

“The United States has been taken advantage of for 25 years, both on trade and on the military,” the president said just hours after the Pentagon announced the plan on July 29. “We are protecting Germany. So we’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bill. It’s very simple: They’re delinquent. Very simple.”

Analysts say the issues of motivation and rationale make all the difference.

Careful military plans that result from years of planning and consultation with allies, they say, naturally will move much faster because the Pentagon understands exactly what the goals are and what national security objectives they are trying to achieve.

“If this had been a policy that emerged from within the Pentagon and the wheels had already begun to turn, then it’s possible that the change in the presence in Europe could have moved more quickly,” said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“But given that the decision seems to have come out of the Oval Office, first you have to figure out what the president wants,” said Mr. Kupchan, former senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council during the Obama administration. “Then you have to do the planning. Then you have to figure out the implications for warm bodies and equipment and logistics. And then finally, at the end of the process, things start to move, but that takes time.”

Leading military commanders have been clear about how much work must be done to enact all of the planned changes.

“What we have right now is really a concept, a concept that we’ve shared with our allies, shared with the Congress, and we’ve shared inside the department fairly widely. We now have to turn it into plans,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten told reporters during the July 29 press conference.

Democrats in Congress said the decision amounts to petty personal politics by Mr. Trump, who has cast Germany as a freeloader dependent on America for cheap military protection. Germans bristle at such charges and say they are ramping up defense spending with hopes to hit the threshold of 2% of gross domestic product often cited by Mr. Trump.

Rethinking the withdrawal

America’s military presence in Europe is just one key foreign policy move that could be ripe for reversal in the early days of a Biden White House.

Decisions that have been made relatively recently will be the easiest to reverse, such as Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from WHO because of the organization’s unwillingness, the White House argues, to hold China fully accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Trump administration decision to withdraw from the WHO undermined our national security. It is very likely a Biden administration would reverse that decision and renew our participation and support,” said P.J. Crowley, who served as an assistant secretary of state for public affairs during the Obama administration. “I would expect such a move to receive bipartisan support.”

On the Paris climate deal, the U.S. technically must remain a part of the accord until Nov. 4 — a day after the presidential election. Should Mr. Trump lose the election, he could still ensure that the U.S. exits the pact, but a Biden transition team likely would publicly state an intention to rejoin immediately after Mr. Biden is sworn in.

A Biden administration would be faced with more complex considerations when looking at whether to reverse Mr. Trump’s exits from several key arms and defense treaties with Russia. The Trump administration last year pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty over concerns that Moscow was violating the deal.

The White House also argued that any such nuclear deals in the 21st century must involve China, a sentiment the Biden team may share.

The next president also would weigh whether to reenter the Open Skies Treaty, which allows for unarmed reconnaissance flights over other nations.

The White House has accused Russia of violating that agreement by refusing to allow flights over sensitive areas. A Democratic White House, specialists say, would thoroughly review Open Skies and other deals but ultimately may decide to follow Mr. Trump’s path.

“I think a Biden administration will also see that Russia was responsible for essentially deteriorating the commitment, under the Open Skies Treaty and almost gave the Trump administration the ability to walk out because of Russia’s violations,” said Mark Simakovsky, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the former Europe/NATO chief of staff for the office of the secretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon.

“I don’t necessarily think you would just see Biden unilaterally get us back into all of these treaties overnight,” Mr. Simakovsky said. “But I think you clearly see another policy review being undertaken.”

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Lebanon foreign minister quits over PM’s ‘lack of reformist will’ |NationalTribune.com

Lebanon has appointed Charbel Wehbe as foreign minister after Nassif Hitti resigned from the position, saying the country risked becoming a “failed state” and the government showed a lack of reformist will. “I participated in this government on the basis that I have one employer named Lebanon, and I found in my country many employers…

Lebanon foreign minister quits over PM’s ‘lack of reformist will’ |NationalTribune.com

Lebanon has appointed Charbel Wehbe as foreign minister after Nassif Hitti resigned from the position, saying the country risked becoming a “failed state” and the government showed a lack of reformist will.
“I participated in this government on the basis that I have one employer named Lebanon, and I found in my country many employers and conflicting interests,” Hitti said in his resignation letter to Prime Minister Hassan Diab, made public on Monday.
“If they don’t come together around the interests of the Lebanese people and save them, then the ship, God forbid, will sink with everyone on board.”
In his resignation letter, Hitti chided the “absence of a vision for Lebanon as I believe in it as a free, independent and capable nation” and the absence of a “real will to achieve structural reforms … which our national society asks for and the international community are calling on us to do”.
“Lebanon today is sliding towards becoming a failed state,” he wrote.
The letter also implicitly criticised Hezbollah, a major backer of Diab’s government, by calling for a need for Lebanon to strengthen its ties with the “Arab community” and be “radiant in its Arab environment”.
Lebanon’s formerly strong ties with Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, have been harmed by the growing role of the Iran-backed group in Lebanese politics and in regional conflicts, including the war In Yemen.
Hours after Hitti resigned, President Michel Aoun and Diab signed a decree appointing Charbel Wehbe as the new foreign minister.
Wehbe is a diplomatic affairs advisor to Aoun and was formerly the director of political affairs at the foreign ministry.
Blow to the government
Hitti’s resignation is the biggest blow yet to Diab’s six-month-old government, which has struggled to make good on promises that it would implement wide-ranging reforms following massive anti-establishment protests last year.
Though the veteran diplomat is the first member of Diab’s cabinet to quit, the government has already seen two high-profile resignations from a team negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. Both had cited the same lack of will to reform due to the interests of the country’s political-financial elite.

Last week, Hitti had expressed his frustration with the Diab government on a popular talk show, saying it was “draining my professional and diplomatic credit”.
Diab’s government has also faced repeated calls to resign. But he has defended staying in power by claiming a replacement would take a long time, which he said would amount to “a crime against the Lebanese [people]”.
Diplomatic spat with France
Hitti’s resignation follows a diplomatic mishap involving Diab and Lebanon’s strongest Western ally, France, after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Beirut last month.
A few days after the visit, a tweet from Diab’s official Twitter account said Le Drian brought “nothing new” and had a “lack of knowledge of the path of government reforms”.
“The international decision till now is not to help Lebanon,” he posted.
The tweet was later deleted. Diab also met a French embassy delegation and reportedly expressed his appreciation of France’s historical ties with Lebanon.
Hitti was picked by Gebran Bassil, the former foreign minister and head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which has the single-biggest bloc in parliament and was founded by President Michel Aoun.
Reports in local media have indicated that Hitti’s resignation was partially due to frustration over Bassil’s continued hold on key decisions at the ministry. Bassil was reportedly unhappy with Hitti’s decision to quit.
An FPM source told Al Jazeera that Hitti’s decision to step down was his own, regardless of the party’s position.
“He has his own reasons,” the source said. “His statement today was clear and shows that it had nothing to do with the talk that has come out.”
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UN chief: Foreign interference in Libya at ‘unprecedented levels’ |NationalTribune.com

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned the UN Security Council (UNSC) that the conflict in Libya has entered a new phase “with foreign interference reaching unprecedented levels”. Libya was plunged into chaos by the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed its longtime leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Since 2014, the oil-rich country has been split,…

UN chief: Foreign interference in Libya at ‘unprecedented levels’ |NationalTribune.com

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned the UN Security Council (UNSC) that the conflict in Libya has entered a new phase “with foreign interference reaching unprecedented levels”.
Libya was plunged into chaos by the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed its longtime leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
Since 2014, the oil-rich country has been split, with an internationally-recognised government controlling the capital, Tripoli, and the northwest, while renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi controls the east.
Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Russia, while the government is backed by Turkey. 
“The conflict has entered a new phase with foreign interference reaching unprecedented levels, including in the delivery of sophisticated equipment and the number of mercenaries involved in the fighting,” Guterres said on Wednesday.
Russian private military contractor Wagner Group has up to 1,200 people deployed in Libya, strengthening Haftar’s forces, according to a confidential May report by independent sanctions monitors to the UNSC Libya sanctions committee.

Russian private military contractors have clandestinely fought in support of Russian forces in Syria and Ukraine, Reuters news agency previously reported, but the Kremlin denies it uses private military contractors abroad.
The UN sanctions monitors identified more than two dozen flights between Russia and eastern Libya from August 2018 to August 2019 by civilian aircraft “strongly linked to, or owned by” Wagner Group or related companies.
The monitors also listed the details of 122 Wagner operatives of “whom many are highly probably operational, or have been operational, within Libya”.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia rejected the accusations of Russian involvement in Libya.
“But we know about other countries’ military personnel, including from those countries that accuse us, to be present on Libyan soil, East and West,” he told the council, calling on all states with influence on the Libyan parties to push for a truce.
United Arab Emirates minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, told the council there were “roughly 10,000 Syrian mercenaries operating in Libya, approximately twice as many as there were six months ago”.
Guterres denounced the situation during a ministers-level UNSC video conference, expressing particular concern about the military forces massing around the city of Sirte, halfway between Tripoli in the west and Benghazi in the east.
Egypt has warned that any Turkish-backed effort to take Sirte could lead its army to directly intervene.
“We are very concerned about the alarming military build-up around the city, and the high level of direct foreign interference in the conflict in violation of the UN arms embargo, UNSC resolutions, and commitments made by Member States in Berlin,” Guterres said.
Guterres said between April and June this year the UN mission has documented at least 102 civilians deaths and 254 civilians injuries – a 172 percent increase compared with the first quarter of 2020.
He added there were also at least 21 attacks on medical facilities, ambulances and medical personnel.  

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