US President Donald Trump has announced he will be placing a 60-day pause on the issuing of certain immigration green cards in an effort to limit competition for jobs in a US economy wrecked by the coronavirus.
“To protect American workers I will be issuing a temporary suspension of immigrating into the United States,” Mr Trump said at a White House briefing after tweeting about the order late on Monday night.
Mr Trump said that the move would not impact on those in the country on a temporary basis and would apply only to those looking for green cards in the hope of staying.
An administration official familiar with the plans had said earlier the order would be focused on preventing people from winning permission to live and work in the US. That would include those seeking employment-based green cards and relatives of green card holders who are not citizens.
Americans who wish to bring immediate family to the country would still be able to do so, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. About one million people were granted green cards last year.
While a hard stop on immigration would normally affect millions of people, much of the immigration system has already ground to a halt because of the pandemic.
Almost all visa processing by the State Department has been suspended for weeks.
In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2020
Travel to the US has been restricted from much of the globe. And Mr Trump has used the virus to effectively end asylum at US borders, including turning away children who arrive by themselves and putting a hold on refugee resettlement – something Congress, the courts and international law had not previously allowed.
Criticism of Mr Trump’s new announcement was swift, especially his timing during the pandemic. Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum, noted that thousands of foreign-born healthcare workers are currently treating people with Covid-19 and working in critical sectors of the economy.
Andrea Flores of the American Civil Liberties Union said Mr Trump seemed “more interested in fanning anti-immigrant flames than in saving lives”.
But Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Centre for Immigration Studies, which favours lower rates of immigration, said that eliminating millions of work permits and visas would “instantaneously create” new jobs for Americans and other legal workers – even though most businesses are shuttered because of social distancing dictates and stay-at-home orders.
In a statement, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany described the order as aimed at protecting both the “health and economic well-being of American citizens as we face unprecedented times”.
She said: “At a time when Americans are looking to get back to work, action is necessary.”