US President Donald Trump says he will put a pause on immigration into the country so Americans are first in the line for jobs.
He has vowed to put a 60-day stop on the issuing of green cards in an effort to limit competition for jobs in an economy wrecked by the coronavirus.
An administration official familiar with the plans, however, said the order will apply to foreigners seeking employment-based green cards and relatives of green card holders who are not citizens.
Around one million green cards were granted in the 2019 fiscal year, about half to spouses, children and parents of US citizens.
But there are question marks over how effective this strategy will be.
By limiting his immigration measure to green cards, Trump has left untouched hundreds of thousands of foreign workers granted non-immigrant visas each year, including farm workers, health care workers and software programmers.
The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, estimated that some 110,000 green cards could be delayed during a two-month pause. Trump said he would consider extending the restrictions, depending on economic conditions at the time.
Almost all visa processing by the State Department, including immigrant visas, has already been suspended due to the pandemic.
China, Europe, Mexico, Canada and many other countries have restricted travel to the US.
Trump has used the virus to effectively end asylum at American borders, turning away even children who arrive by themselves — something Congress, the courts and international law hadn't previously allowed.
Trump has been tweeting about the immigration ban for several days, writing on Monday:
"In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!"
Criticism of his announcement was swift, especially the timing during the pandemic.
"This is not an issue that should be brought up at this moment," Angelica Salas, the director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told The Associated Press.
"I think that we as Americans need to see this for what it is, which is a distraction. And it's just one more call to racism, division and xenophobia," she said.
Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Relations Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday that he did not expect Trump's temporary immigration ban to have an immediate impact.
"Nor do I see restrictions other than the ones we already have at the border for health reasons," he added.