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NRF Sues Trump Over Visa Ban, Presses Congress on Retail Tax Credits for COVID Relief

The National Retail Federation (NRF) is urging the federal government to ease the burden on the nation’s brands and retailers as the coronavirus continues to spread.

In a statement Tuesday, the retail trade group urged the Senate to approve legislation introduced last week that would grant tax credits to businesses looking to make their workplaces safer through the pandemic.

“It is essential that we bring our economy back by ensuring that the consuming public is safe to shop again and that the retail associates that assist them are safe as well,” NRF senior vice president for government relations David French said. “The Healthy Workplace Tax Credit will go a long way to provide some additional liquidity for making the necessary investments in our stores and workers.”

In a letter to lawmakers including Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who introduced the legislation, French applauded the proposed action’s provision establishing a refundable tax credit against payroll taxes. It would cover half of the costs incurred by businesses in the pursuit of COVID-19 testing, PPE, disinfecting and cleaning measures, and the reconfiguration of workspaces to meet social-distancing recommendations.

The credit would be limited to $1,000 per employee per quarter for a business’ first 500 staff members, and would contract to $750 for the next 500, and $500 for each employee thereafter.

Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) introduced similar legislation in the House last week asking for the tax credit be rolled into the new coronavirus relief bill being drafted by House and Senate leadership. The NRF has received feedback from its mid-size retail members saying that the cost of implementing safety measures can be as high as $1 million a week. Face masks alone can run $30,000 a day for a 30,000-person operation.

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On Tuesday, the NRF—along with business organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), U.S. Chamber of Commerce, TechNet and Intrax—filed a lawsuit in federal court against President Trump’s June proclamation suspending the issue of new, non-immigrant visas in the interest of national security.

Signed into law on June 22, the action impacts H1-B visas for highly skilled workers, H-4 visas for their spouses, H2-B guest worker visas, L visas, which companies use to bring international employees into the country, and most J visas, which are designated for “cultural exchange.”

The business groups filed their lawsuit in San Francisco’s U.S. District Court, claiming that the proclamation extends beyond President Trump’s authority and violates existing protections for the labor market on the issue of non-immigrant visas. They also stated that the action is not “rationally related” to addressing the country’s unemployment spike, which the president stated was its purpose, and violates the Administrative Procedures Act.

According to an NRF statement, the lawsuit seeks an injunction that would prohibit the proclamation from being enacted, and asks that it be set aside entirely.

“Innovation is absolutely key to surviving the economic crisis currently facing our nation, especially for retailers who’ve seen their stores forced to close and scrambled to find new ways to sell and deliver products,” Stephanie Martz, NRF chief administrative officer and general counsel, said. “This proclamation is meant to protect American jobs but instead it threatens the millions of rank-and-file workers whose jobs rely on experts coming up with the latest technology to keep retail moving forward.”

Martz added that retailers need access to candidates from across the globe to fill advanced computer and IT jobs that require specialized skills. “This sweeping measure could have a significant negative impact on their ability to do that,” she added.

NAM senior vice president and general counsel Linda Kelly called the restrictions on visas “overreaching and unlawful,” with actions that could hamper economic recovery. These actions, she claimed, would “hand other countries a competitive advantage,” driving talented individuals away from U.S. jobs. “These restrictions could harm every corner of our economy, as evidenced by the broad coalition that has come together to oppose them,” Kelly added.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas J. Donohue said the restrictions were tantamount to hanging a “not welcome” sign up to deter “engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other critical workers who help drive the American economy.”

TechNet, which represents Silicon Valley upstarts and corporations alike, also took a stand against the visa restrictions, asserting that “banning categories of innovators only hinders tech’s ability to serve our country.” International employees are a critical part of “providing essential groceries and food delivery, collaborating with co-workers, having safe medical visits using telehealth solutions and helping millions stay connected,” said TechNet CEO Linda Moore.

The Exchange Visitor Program also helps strengthen the U.S. economy, Intrax president Marcie Schneider argued, adding that J-1 cultural exchange programs generate more than $1.4 billion each year. “These overreaching restrictions will sharply curtail cultural exchange programs at just the time when we should be increasing connections between people around the world,” she said.