President Donald Trump's announced executive order on halting immigration will be for 60 days, barring an extension, and will only apply to those seeking certain green cards.
"This pause will be in effect for 60 days," Trump told reporters at the White House coronavirus task force daily briefing Tuesday. "Afterwards, the need for any extension or modification will be evaluated by myself and a group of people based on economic conditions at the time.
"This order will only apply for an individual seeking a permanent residency – in other words, those receiving green cards."
The immigration ban will not apply for those seeking to come to the U.S. temporarily, Trump added.
The plan is intended to protect American workers who have become unemployed during the pandemic and state-level stay at home orders.
"By pausing immigration, we will help unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens – so important," Trump said. "It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrants labor flown in from abroad.
"We must first take care of the American worker."
Also, Trump added, the immigration pause will conserve American healthcare resources for U.S. citizens during the pandemic.
"This pause on new immigration will also help to conserve vital medical resources for American citizens," Trump said. "A short break from new immigration, depending on the time we are talking about, will protect the solvency of our healthcare system and provide relief to jobless Americans."
Other workers such as those on so-called H-1B visas would be covered in a separate action, a senior administration official said Tuesday, and Trump said that is still under consideration and will not be done until after this initial order is put into effect last Tuesday or Wednesday.
Trump announced in a tweet on Monday night he would be banning immigration because of the coronavirus and to protect American jobs.
Opponents saw the move as an attempt to use the crisis to fulfill a long-term Trump policy of goal of reducing legal and illegal immigration. Any move by Trump to restrict legal immigration will likely trigger legal challenges.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the order will include exemptions for people involved in responding to the coronavirus outbreak, including farm workers and those helping to secure U.S. food supplies.
"The farmers will not be affected," Trump said. "That's a very important point.
"If anything we will make it easier for this," he added.
The official said as the country begins to open up its economy, immigration flows were expected to increase, and the administration wanted to ensure that employers hire back fired workers rather than giving jobs to immigrants at lower wages.
"As President Trump has said, 'Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens, especially for African-American and Latino workers,'" White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement. "At a time when Americans are looking to get back to work, action is necessary."
The U.S. Department of State issued roughly 462,000 immigrant visas in fiscal year 2019, which began Oct. 1, 2018. The visas allow an immigrant to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the United States, informally known as a green card. The status allows a person to live and work in the United States and apply for citizenship after a five-year period.
Under a separate immigration action, technology industry workers with H-1B visas might need to provide updated certifications to the government they are not displacing American workers. That was one of a handful of proposals being looked at.
Early in his presidency Trump issued an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), to tighten its policies on H-1B visas, which are used heavily by the tech industry to bring over skilled workers.
Critics of the visas say they have been monopolized by staffing firms that bring over workers that displace Americans, often in back-office technical jobs. But the visas are also used by the healthcare and education sectors and other businesses recruiting workers who generally have bachelor's or higher degrees.
Immigration is effectively cut off anyway at the moment through border restrictions and flight bans put in place to stop the virus's spread.
"I think this is a malevolent distraction," said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy institute in Washington.
Andrea Flores, a deputy policy director with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued over a number of Trump immigration policies, said Trump appeared "more interested in fanning anti-immigrant flames than in saving lives" with his latest proposal.
The Trump campaign plans to highlight immigration again in the 2020 election battle. But Reuters/Ipsos polling shows that, among Republicans, the percentage of people who see immigration as the most important problem facing the United States has declined in recent months, with concerns about the economy taking greater prominence.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
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