WASHINGTON (CN) — Citing the pandemic-driven economic downturn, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday that suspends the issuance of several categories of nonimmigrant visas through the end of the year.
Trump temporarily suspended the issuance of new green cards, with exceptions, in April, citing the economic collapse brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The latest action extends that suspension through the end of the year and expands it to also cover certain types of temporary work visas.
The order applies to H-1B and H-2B visas, which go to specialty and seasonal workers, respectively, as well as many J visas, which go to people participating in work and study exchange programs. Several broad categories of workers are also exempt from the suspension, including those in the food and health care industries, according to a senior administration official.
In addition, the order suspends visas for people approved for transfers from a company’s foreign offices to an office in the United States and for the spouses and family members of people who have received certain other visas.
The actions do not apply to people who are already in the United States.
The administration official said the White House is making the move in response to historic unemployment levels caused by state-mandated lockdowns aimed at curbing the coronavirus pandemic. The official said the administration estimates the suspensions will leave open roughly 525,000 jobs that would have otherwise gone to immigrants or temporary workers.
“Under ordinary circumstances, properly administered temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy,” the order Trump signed on Monday states. “But under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the Covid-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers.”
Andrea Flores, the deputy director of immigration policy at the ACLU, said the administration’s economic justifications fall flat, as the restrictions are in line with its larger immigration policy that dates back to before the pandemic began.
“I would argue that these are things they were considering long before they knew what this economic crisis would look like,” Flores said in an interview. “These are policies they argue are necessary even in the best of times.”
Flores said, beyond the people who would have received the green cards and visas the order will suspend, the move also creates uncertainty for businesses and immigrants who are already working through the immigration system. She called on Congress to investigate the administration’s rationale for instituting the order.
The administration official mentioned the suspension of visas alongside longer-term efforts to reform how H-1B visas are awarded, doing away with the current lottery and shifting to a system that admits only the immigrants with the highest offered salaries.
Trump’s order from April faced swift legal challenge and his new proclamation is likely to face a similar test in the courts.