President Trump Tries to Boost Economy, U.S. Labor Market With Immigration Suspension

April 23, 2020

President Donald Trump issued a proclamation Wednesday evening temporarily suspending the immigration of persons who the President believes present a risk to the U.S. labor market, citing his concern that “[e]xisting immigrant visa processing protections are inadequate for recovery from the COVID-19 outbreak.” 

While earlier travel bans were aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, the newest measure is aimed at ensuring that U.S. “workers at the margin between employment and unemployment, who are typically ‘last in’ during an economic expansion and ‘first out’ during an economic contraction” will not be faced with the added burden of an “excess labor supply.” The President explained the move to curb immigration is necessary, as “needed behavioral shift[s],” such as social distancing, have “taken a toll on the United States economy, with national unemployment claims reaching historic levels.” As the proclamation details, since the President declared a national emergency on April 11, “more than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment.” 

Although the proclamation is the broadest restriction imposed on immigration to the United States since the outbreak of the coronavirus, it is less broad-sweeping than the President’s initial comments might have suggested. Rather, the proclamation prohibits only the entry of individuals who, as of Wednesday, are outside of the United States, do not have an immigrant visa and do not have official travel documents other than visas. 

The proclamation makes exceptions for permanent U.S. residents as well as the non-citizen children and spouses of U.S. citizens. Also excluded from the proclamation are health care professionals or medical researchers seeking entry on an immigrant visa to combat the novel coronavirus as well as non-citizen members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families, among others. The President specifically noted that the proclamation would not “limit the ability of an individual to seek asylum, refugee status, withholding of removal, or protection under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, consistent with the laws of the United States.”

Other restrictions could be forthcoming. The proclamation also mandates that, within 30 days, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, will make recommendations as to what other measures are appropriate “to stimulate the United States economy and ensure the prioritization, hiring, and employment of United States workers.”

The proclamation will be in effect for at least 60 days, but it could be extended if the President deems it necessary.  

Please contact Brandon Davis, Laura Buck, Stephanie Poucher or Phelps’ Immigration and Labor and Employment teams if you have any questions or need compliance advice and guidance. For more information related to COVID-19, please also see Phelps’ COVID-19: Client Resource Portal.