President Trump Announces Executive Order Suspending Immigration

On Monday, April 20, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted his intention to issue an Executive Order that would “temporarily suspend immigration into the United States”. It read, “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!”

Technically, “immigration” refers to people permanently immigrating to the United States by getting a permanent resident card or green card. (There are also illegal immigrants that stay in the U.S. illegally for an indefinite period.)  However, as the word “immigration” is used loosely in widely different manners by different people, that caused a lot of confusion and fear among non-immigrant visa holders such as H visa holders, L visa holders, and other temporary workers.

On Wednesday, April 22, 2020, President Trump signed the Executive Order, titled “Proclamation Suspending Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risk to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak”.  It is slated to be in effect for 60 days, but the President stated that he would reserve the right to extend it later, “based on economic conditions at the time.”

The order applies primarily to those seeking permanent residence in the U.S.—that is, green-card seekers. It blocks parents, adult children, and siblings of U.S. citizens from following relatives into the country in a process that the President has long decried as “chain-based migration.” Spouses and children of current green card holders are also affected. Finally, this year’s diversity visa lottery, which provides about 50,000 visas each year, will be suspended.

However, the order also includes a wide pool of exceptions, including: overseas spouses and minor children of American citizens; immigrants currently in the country; temporary-visa seekers like students; essential workers like farmers and health care professionals; and non-immigrant visas for temporary workers.

The ban was originally speculated to include the issuance of temporary work visas. However, following extensive protests from business groups, an administration official confirmed that the order would only cover green cards. The official stated that the temporary work visa portion is substantially more complicated and would require more time to work through. This provision is one that will be re-evaluated later once various industries around the country re-open after the pandemic.

The President explained his rationale at a press briefing on Tuesday. “By pausing immigration, we’ll help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens,” he said. “It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad. We must first take care of the American workers.” During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, more than 22 million Americans have lost their jobs.

In short, there are no plans to ban the entry of non-immigrant visa holders (including temporary workers) as part of this order.  In any case, with the U.S. embassies and consulates closed worldwide, no one can currently get any kind of new visas, anyway. Even the H-1 petitions subject to the FY 2021 cap are to be filed between April 2020 and June 2020. With the premium processing being suspended, there is no way any of them would get approved within the next 60 days. No new H-1 visa holders would be entering the United States over the next few months, even in absence of Coronavirus issues. Therefore, his tweet and the order seem to be simply a symbolic gesture for political purposes.

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