On April 22, 2020, President Donald Trump signed an executive order halting for 60 days, beginning April 23, 2020, at 11:59 pm, the issuance of green cards to certain immigrants, arguing that foreign workers should not compete with US-citizen workers for jobs at a time of a public health crisis and economic downturn.
The order applies to immigrants applying for permanent residency from abroad, not from immigrants already residing in the United States. The president reserved the right to extend the ban beyond 60 days depending on economic circumstances and directs the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Homeland Security to review nonimmigrant visa categories for possible restrictions.
The order excludes certain categories of green card applicants, including EB-5 investors, medical professionals (physicians, nurses, and other health-care professionals), members of the US military and their immediate families, Special Immigrant Visa recipients from Afghanistan and Iraq, immigrants who advance US enforcement efforts, and immigrants whose entry into the United States is “in the national interest.” Individuals applying for asylum, refugee status, withholding of removal, or protection under the Convention Against Torture also are exempt from the ban.
Because of opposition from business groups, the order maintains the issuance of visas for temporary laborers, many of whom are considered essential workers in the health-care, agriculture, and technology industries, among others. Specifically, H-1B visas for high-tech workers, H-2A visas for farmworkers, H-2B visas for seasonal workers, F-1 visas for students, and R-1 visas for religious workers, among other temporary visa categories, will not be affected by the ban. Tourist visas also are not impacted by the ban.
Despite citing economic reasons for the halt, nearly two-thirds of applications for permanent residency are based on family ties, not employment reasons. The order exempts immediate family members of US citizens—spouses and children—but applies to the spouses and children of lawful permanent residents. Adult children, parents, and siblings of US citizens also are included in the ban. The Diversity Visa Lottery program, which awards about 50,000 green cards a year, will be suspended.
Citing public health concerns, the administration already has put on hold the resettlement of refugees, denied requests for asylum at US borders, and shut down consular processing for visa applications. While close to 1 million green cards are issued each year, DHS approved only 140,000 green card applications during the first three months of FY2020. It is estimated that over 50,000 green card applications will be frozen over the sixty-day period.
Public officials and immigration advocates expressed strong opposition to the executive order, citing studies that show that immigrants overall contribute to the health of the US economy and complement, not compete with, US workers. They also accused the administration of exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to diminish legal immigration, a consistent administration goal, and to push an anti-immigrant agenda.
The executive order, which derives its authority from Sections 212(f) and 215(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), likely will be challenged in court. Proponents claim that the president has wide authority to suspend immigration in times of national emergency, pointing to the INA and to the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision to uphold the Trump administration’s travel ban on national security grounds. Opponents disagree, arguing that the order is an overreach of presidential power based on domestic politics.
April 23, 2020