The issuance of new green cards will also remain halted through the end of the year.
The action will also pause some H2-B visas for seasonal workers, with an exception for those in the food-processing industry, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters Monday.
Trump acted with the U.S. facing an unemployment rate of 13.3% after businesses closed or reduced staff in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The president’s order won’t affect immigrant workers who already hold the visas.
“Under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs izing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers,” Trump said in his order.
Speaking Saturday in an interview with Fox News, Trump said he wants Americans to take jobs that would otherwise go to people granted the visas.
“We have plenty of people looking for jobs,” he told Fox. “I think it’s going to make a lot of people very happy. And it’s common sense.”
Trump tweeted at the height of the coronavirus pandemic that he planned to “temporarily suspend immigration into the U.S.” Industry groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Information Technology Industry Council, wrote to Trump to express concern that restrictions would disrupt business and hamper growth.
The U.S. issued more than 900,000 visas in fiscal year 2019 in the categories Trump plans to freeze.
In the past few years, the administration has moved to tighten the H-1B program, and the approval rate for applications has fallen. The technology industry has relied on H-1B visas to hire foreign talent, particularly in the fields of science and engineering. Critics say some companies have abused the program to displace American workers.
H-1B visas are temporary work izations for people with highly specialized knowledge. The current cap for those visas is 85,000 annually. H-4 visas are issued to immediate family members of H-1B visa holders.
The Computing Technology Industry Association, which includes IT companies, called the administration’s actions on H1-B visas “extremely disappointing.”
“H-1B visa holders do not supplant American workers but instead help ensure U.S. innovation and economic growth,” said Cinnamon Rogers, the group’s executive vice president for public advocacy, in a statement. “Making it more difficult for bright minds to work in the United States only benefits our competitors abroad who will attract their talents to build and develop cutting-edge, job-creating goods and services.”
The H1-B program will be restructured to put an emphasis on would-be immigrants with the highest salary offers once the program restarts next year, the official said.
L visas are for temporary intracompany transfers for those who are in management positions or have specialized knowledge. J visas are for work- and study-based exchange visitor programs, including au pairs.