United States President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would order a temporary halt in issuing green cards to prevent people from immigrating to his country, Reuters reported. Trump said that his order would initially be in effect for 60 days, but that he might extend it based on the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

He cast his decision to “suspend immigration,” which he first announced on Twitter, as a move to protect American workers and their jobs from foreign competition. More than 22 million Americans have lost their jobs in the economic devastation caused by the virus and efforts to contain it.

The US president framed the executive order, which he expects to sign on Wednesday, and said it would apply only to those seeking green cards and not temporary workers. However, he did not elaborate how the applications of those people that are currently being processed would be affected.

“By pausing immigration, we will help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens – so important,” Trump told reporters at Tuesday’s coronavirus task force briefing. “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 added. “We must first take care of the American worker.”

The president, who has long campaigned against illegal immigration, added that the move would help conserve medical resources for US citizens. The Trump administration has already expanded travel restrictions, slowed visa processing and moved to swiftly return to their home countries asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants who cross the border. Critics saw the move as him using the pandemic to further hard-line immigration policies.

An unidentified senior official told Reuters the administration was looking at a separate action to cover others affected by US immigration policy, including those on H-1B visas. The number of visas issued to foreigners abroad looking to immigrate to the United States has declined by about 25%, to 4,62,422 in the 2019 fiscal year from 6,17,752 in 2016.

US is the worst-hit country by the coronavirus outbreak and has the world’s largest number of cases, with 8,24,889 cases and 45,042 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

The worldwide toll from the coronavirus pandemic crossed 1.77 lakh and more than 25.63 lakh declared cases have been found in 185 countries and territories.

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