President Donald Trump has said he will halt applications of foreign nationals seeking permanent residence in the US because of the coronavirus crisis.
Trump said on Tuesday that he would order a temporary halt in issuing green cards to prevent people from immigrating to the United States, but he backed away from plans to suspend guest worker programs after business groups exploded in anger at the threat of losing access to foreign labor.
He cast his decision to “suspend immigration,” which he first announced on Twitter, as a move to protect American workers and their jobs from foreign competition. More than 22 million Americans have lost their jobs in the economic devastation caused by the virus and efforts to contain it.
Officials were still working to draft the executive order, according to an administration official, but hope to have it completed in the next few days for Trump to sign. While the language is still being finalized, the order is expected to temporarily halt the issuance of new green cards and work visas — steps that had already effectively already been in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In his daily COVID-19 briefing at the White House, Trump said he expects to sign an executive order on Wednesday that will enforce the freeze on new green cards for 60 days.
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 U.S. 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 before the plan was announced. About one million people were granted green cards last year.
In a statement on Tuesday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not provide additional details or timing for the executive order, nor did she mention any health benefits to the ban. Instead, she emphasized employment implications of the planned immigration pause.
“President Trump is committed to protecting the health and economic well-being of American citizens as we face unprecedented times,” she wrote.
While numerous studies have concluded that immigration has an overall positive effect on the American work force and wages for workers, Mr. Trump ignored that research on Tuesday, insisting that American citizens who had lost their jobs in recent weeks should not have to compete with foreigners when the economy reopens.
“We must first take care of the American worker. This pause will be in effect for 60 days, after which need for any extension or modification will be evaluated by myself and a group of people based on economic conditions at the time,” Trump said.
The president, who has long campaigned against illegal immigration, added that the move would help conserve medical resources for US citizens. The Trump administration has already expanded travel restrictions, slowed visa processing and moved to swiftly return to their home countries asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants who cross the border. Critics saw the move as him using the pandemic to further hard-line immigration policies.