Applications of foreign nationals seeking permanent residence in the US will be suspended because of the coronavirus crisis, President Donald Trump said.
A day after he announced the move in an ambiguous tweet, President Trump said the measure would protect American jobs.
It is not clear how effective it will be as most visa services have already been suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Critics say President Trump is trying to distract attention away from his response to the virus. The US has nearly 45,000 deaths.
Democrats also accuse the Trump administration of using the pandemic to crack down on immigration. The issue has traditionally been a strong campaigning theme for President Trump, a Republican, but has taken a back seat during the crisis and in the lead-up to the November election.
At a White House coronavirus briefing, President Trump said the executive order with the decision was likely to be signed on April 22. The ban could be extended “much longer” depending on how the economy was doing, he said.
After vowing to suspend “all immigration” to the US on April 20, President Trump apparently changed his original plan after a backlash from some business leaders. It would reportedly impact immigrants given temporary working visas, like farm laborers and hi-tech employees.
More than 20 million Americans have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus outbreak, and President Trump said the government had a “solemn duty” to ensure they regain their jobs.
He said: “It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad.”
The president added that there could be some exemptions to the measure.
He also said: “We want to protect our US workers and I think as we move forward we will become more and more protective of them.”
President Trump’s order could spark legal challenges.
The US has the highest number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the world – more than 820,000 – according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the disease globally.
Green cards give immigrants legal permanent residence in the US and the opportunity to apply for American citizenship.
In a typical year, nearly one million green cards are issued in the US. The majority – roughly 70% – go to those with relatives living in the US, according to a 2018 report from the US Senate. For employment-based green cards, a common form of the residency status, roughly 80% are issued to those already in the country, shifting from a temporary visa to permanent residence.