The White House on Monday afternoon announced that President Donald Trump would sign an executive order extending and expanding the suspension of certain visa types through the end of 2020, with other limits and restrictions on immigration into the United States set to become permanent under the auspices of shielding American workers from additional pressures as the coronavirus pandemic has sparked the biggest unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. The order, the goal of which was described to reporters on a background call with a senior administration official as “free[ing] up more jobs for Americans,” extends the 60-day pause on the granting of new green cards through the end of the year, and adds a number of other visa types to the list, including the H-1B visa for highly skilled workers, the H-4 spousal visa, the H-2B visa for low-skilled workers with carveouts for those in the food service industry, and visas meant for intra-company transfers for workers from abroad. The White House also intends to dramatically change the criteria for admission on the H-1B visa—the same visa on which first lady Melania Trump entered the country—in order to prioritize entry for workers with the highest salaries. Under the new policy, only the top 85,000 highest-earning workers seeking an H-1B visa will be allowed into the United States, in order to “eliminate competition with Americans… at the entry level.”
The administration official said that the White House was “hopeful that these are steps that will see broad bipartisan support,” although immigration advocates decried the move as using the coronavirus pandemic as a cover to implement long-standing policy goals on restricting legal immigration into the country. “This is not a COVID-19 response or an economic response. It’s the exploitation of a pandemic to institute divisive policies and reshape immigration law, while superseding Congress,” said Andrea Flores, deputy director of immigration policy for the American Civil Liberties Union.