President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced an imminent 60-day suspension of immigration into the United States that he said would make sure American workers are the first to get jobs when the economy reopens after the coronavirus shutdown.
The president said that the order, which he is likely to sign Wednesday, will only apply to individuals seeking permanent residency and not to those entering on a temporary basis.
"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 worker," Trump said, adding that the government would evaluate the need for an extension after the 60-day period elapses.
The announcement came as the economic pain from the virus containment measures mounts, with 22 million people in the United States filing for unemployment benefits in the four weeks ending on April 11.
Trump is pushing to get the economy back on track as he seeks to win a second term in the November election, saying that new coronavirus cases have peaked in the country.
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While steps have been taken to close U.S. borders to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus, concerns have grown that with the latest measure, the president may be using the pandemic to follow through on his past election campaign promises to curb immigration.
At the press conference, Trump assured farmers, who rely on seasonal migrant workers, that they would not be affected by the measure.
The Trump administration has barred the entry of foreign travelers coming from countries including China, the first country to be hit by the virus, and many European nations, while also restricting nonessential travel to and from Canada and Mexico.
The State Department, meanwhile, has suspended routine visa services in U.S. embassies and consulates around the world in the wake of the spread of the novel coronavirus.
In fiscal 2019, the department issued around 462,000 immigrant visas. An immigrant visa is issued for foreigners who plan to live permanently in the United States.
After entering the country on the visa, the individual will be granted permanent or conditional resident status. A permanent resident card is known as a "green card."