US visa ban: He’ll be born in the USA, but his Irish dad won’t be there
New US travel restrictions are disrupting the lives of Irish workers, fiancés and parents-to-be
Seán Donovan, from Malahide in Dublin, had returned home after visiting his fiancée Corsi Crumpler in Texas for their baby’s 20-week anatomical scan.
On June 22nd, US president Donald Trump signed a proclamation banning the issuance of a number of work visas, including the H1B and J1, until the end of the year. A ban on travellers from China, Iran, the Schengen zone, the UK and Ireland from entering the US was instituted from March, with the hope of curbing the spread of Covid-19.
The effects are wide-ranging as there are few exemptions from either. Under the travel ban, spouses and – in the case of children unmarried or under 21 – parents of US citizens are permitted to cross the border. But anyone on the cusp of becoming one of those, such as fiancés, or partners of expectant mothers, are generally not permitted to enter the country.
President Trump signed the proclamation suspending entry into the US for travellers coming from Ireland on March 14th. This was almost one week after Seán Donovan, a plumber from Malahide in Dublin, had returned home after visiting his fiancée Corsi Crumpler, a silversmith, in Texas for their baby’s 20-week anatomical scan.
Crumpler, a former flight attendant, met Donovan while in Dublin for work, and they began a long-distance relationship. They have been engaged since November 2019, filed an application for a K-1 fiancé visa for the US in February, and are expecting their first baby on July 19th.
“He’s never felt the baby kick, not once,” says Crumpler from her home in Texas.
In June, Donovan submitted an application to the US embassy in Dublin for a waiver to the ban to allow him to travel on humanitarian grounds. He provided proof of his relationship with Crumpler, and of her pregnancy, and a justification for why a waiver should be awarded. As requested by the embassy, he also sent proof of a return flight to the US, and the result of a Covid-19 test (which was negative). The waiver was not granted – no reason was given for the outcome, and the embassy said the decision could not be appealed.
Everyone else will be holding him, and you’re not there
“Even though I was over for the 20-week scan, she wasn’t showing that much,” says Donovan in Dublin. “So I feel like I have missed a big part of it. It’s upsetting. I try not to think about it too much. It’s your baby, your son, and you’re not there. Everyone else will be holding him, and you’re not there.
“There’s something standing in my way, through no fault of my own. I’m holding on to the fact that I can go there once he’s born. I want to get there as soon as possible.”
In Texas, Crumpler is worried about having the baby alone: “If something were to happen to me, if something were to go wrong, he wouldn’t be able to come over because he isn’t the husband of an American citizen.
“All my friends, I’ve seen pictures of their families with their children. And I know how excited they were to have their babies. I just can’t relate, I’m not excited. I’m scared.”
Once their baby is born, Donovan will be the parent of a US citizen, and therefore permitted to travel to the US, if he can provide proof of paternity. As there are currently delays to the issuance of birth certificates in Texas, where the baby will be born, and because the couple are not married, Donovan has filed an acknowledgement of paternity.
This document declares him the legal and genetic father of the baby, and the couple have been told, informally, this may be accepted as proof of parenthood. They will not know if Donovan will be successful in his attempt to travel, until he presents the documentation at customs and border patrol at Dublin Airport’s US pre-clearance facility after the baby is born.
Crumpler and Donovan’s situation is similar to that of thousands of other couples who are currently separated by the US Covid-related travel ban, many of whom are campaigning on social media for an exemption to be put in place for them.
For many of those couples, there is no known end date to their separation. An interview at a US embassy is part of the application process for the K-1 fiancé visa, and for the foreseeable future, these interviews are suspended.
A spokesman for the US Embassy in Dublin said that applicants with an urgent matter, who need to travel immediately, should seek an emergency appointment with them.
Prospective employees of US companies, who are from elsewhere in the world, are also facing uncertainty about their future.
On June 22nd, Trump extended a previous proclamation suspending the issuance of a range of work visas, including the H1B, H2B, L1 and J1 visas until the end of this year.
The H1B visa is issued to people who have “specialised” qualifications or experience. In 2019, almost two-thirds of H1B visas were awarded to workers in the technology sector, according to the US Department of Labor.
John Hartnett is founder of the Irish Technology Leadership Group, a US-based network of professionals from Ireland and the Irish-American community in the technology sector.
We have a major shortage of engineering and Stem talent in the Bay Area
“[The H1B] is one of the main visas that people are coming over here to work on. I’m here 20 years, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have that visa. It was the first visa I had before I got my green card and citizenship.”
Trump says, in the text of the proclamation, that one of its intentions is to preserve jobs for US citizens. In 2019, just over 675,000 H1B visas were issued, according to the US Department of Labor. In June of this year, more than 140 million people in the US were employed and the unemployment rate was just over 10 per cent.
Hartnett disputes the idea that jobs in the technology sector will now be available for US citizens: “We have a major shortage of engineering and Stem talent in the Bay Area. If they could, they would hire locally here.
“This just doesn’t add up. It’s not going to make any difference to the employment situation. It’s a political move that is only going to hurt the companies that are employing people over here and individuals that are trying to help or do a job.”
Fiona McEntee, a Chicago-based immigration attorney originally from Ireland, says many workers from the tech sector who have been unable to secure a work visa to enter the US are now doing their jobs remotely from elsewhere in the world.
“It doesn’t mean there’s a vacant job here,” she says. “This whole ban is based on a false premise that you can just substitute one worker for another… that’s not how it works.”
Hartnett builds on this point: “Working remotely is going to be part of our future, but it’s not [going to be] 100 per cent working from home. You need to build a team and a culture, and it’s hard to do that remotely… we still need to bring people together to meet each other, to build relationships.”
Hartnett says that while many tech firms have called on the US government to change its policy, he believes there needs to be more political pressure from elsewhere.
“It’s important the Irish Government voices concerns. There needs to be more political pressure put into the system. I’ve heard a lot of strong voices from technology leaders here, and we need to show consistency in terms of this being a big challenge for everybody involved.”
It doesn’t matter what your immigration status is, the fear is felt by so many
A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said it remains in close contact with the US administration on visa and immigration issues, including the recent proclamation restricting certain visa categories.
“In this context, we have stressed the importance of maintaining travel for key workers, and of protecting the future of the J1 programme. We also continue to call on the US authorities to ensure that applications for exemptions to the current restrictions continue to be processed.
“While we would very much like to see the resumption of people-to-people contact between the US and Ireland, our current advice against non-essential travel remains valid.”
McEntee says that many of her clients, and those in similar situations, fear speaking out about their experiences as they worry it will affect their applications for visas.
“It doesn’t matter what your immigration status is, the fear is felt by so many.
“[The Trump administration has] created a denaturalisation task force, and what that does to naturalised US citizens is make them feel that, even now that they’re naturalised, they’re not safe.
“That type of scare tactics really impacts people… The anxiety and the trauma that people are feeling, as a result of all the talk and also the policies to back up that rhetoric. Add the [Covid-19 crisis] into the mix, and further restrictions, and the ban, and people are just really worried.”