United States President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to suspend certain types of immigration into the US for 60 days to protect the jobs of Americans laid off due to the COVID-19
pandemic that has ravaged the country's economy.
The temporary suspension of immigration will affect those who are legally seeking entry into the US for employment purposes but not the ones who are already living in the country, the order said.
Describing it as 'a very powerful order' Trump told reporters during his daily news briefing at the White House on Wednesday that he signed the order to protect American workers' jobs in an economy pummelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"By pausing immigration, we'll help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens. It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labour flown in from abroad," he said.
The executive order, which contains a number of exemptions, was released by the White House, said the new provisions apply to foreign nationals outside the US who do not have an immigrant visa
that is valid on the effective date of proclamation.
It also applies to those foreign nationals who do not have an official travel document other than a visa that is valid on the effective date of proclamation or issued on any date thereafter that permits him or her to travel to the US and seek entry or admission.
The suspension, the executive order said, does not apply to those foreign nationals already inside the country on a Green Card. It provides exemptions to healthcare workers, or seeking to enter the US as a legal permanent resident under investment category.
Spouses of a US citizen, 21 years and younger kids of American nationals, or those who are under the process of being adopted are also exempted from this temporary suspension of immigration.
While the executive order falls short of an outright ban on legal immigration to the US, as Trump initially suggested, it stands to affect thousands of people overseas seeking to come to the country.
Trump's initial announcement to suspend all immigration was met with a swift backlash, including from some business leaders, due to fears it could limit temporary working visas for people like
hi-tech professionals and farm labourers.
Trump's critics have accused him of using the pandemic as cover to ram through hardline immigration policies ahead of November's election in which he is seeking re-election.
Over 20 million Americans have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus outbreak, and the president has said the government had a solemn duty to ensure they regain work.
The International Monetary Fund has projected that the US economy will contract by a whopping 5.9 per cent in 2020, with a rebound to 4.7 per cent growth in 2021.
Trump said he was determined that, without this measure, the US faces a potentially protracted economic recovery with persistently high unemployment if labour supply outpaces labour demand.
"Excess labour supply affects all workers and potential workers, but it is particularly harmful to workers at the margin between employment and unemployment, who are typically 'last in' during an
economic expansion and 'first out' during an economic contraction," he said in his executive order.
"In recent years, these workers have been disproportionately represented by historically disadvantaged groups, including African Americans and other minorities, those without a college degree, and the disabled. These are the workers who, at the margin between employment and unemployment, are likely to bear the burden of excess labour supply disproportionately," he said.
The White House in a statement said that this is a temporary pause demanded by the crisis being faced as a nation.
"The pause will be in effect for 60 days, and the administration will continue to monitor the labour market to amend or extend the proclamation if needed," it said.
"There will be exemptions for medical and other essential workers to combat the outbreak, spouses and minor children of American citizens, and certain other aliens," it said.
Trump is also asking his administration to review guest worker programmes to assess whether additional measures should be taken to protect American workers.
The White House further said that mass migration of low-skilled labour into the US disproportionately harms historically disadvantaged Americans.