On 20 April 2020 President Trump’s tweet that he would ‘… temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!’ The President subsequently issued a limited Presidential Proclamation impacting US immigration effective Thursday, 23 April 2020 at 23:59 (EST).
Citing the high US unemployment rate and the need to protect jobs for Americans, the Proclamation temporarily suspends the issuance of immigrant visas (‘green cards’) to individuals who are outside the US and who do not already hold a green card or other official travel document authorising their immigrant entry to the US. An immigrant visa or ‘green card’ confers permanent residence in the United States. The temporary green card suspension is in effect for 60 days, or until 23 June 2020. Within 50 days, however, the government will determine whether to extend it.
This Proclamation does not have any impact on foreign nationals who are inside the U.S. pursuing a green card or those who already hold green cards. In addition, the announcement does not affect temporary nonimmigrant work visa programs such as H-1B, L-1, or TN, but specifically directs the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor to make recommendations to the Administration in the nonimmigrant arenas within 30 days.
There are several exceptions to the temporary 60-day green card moratorium including:
Employers’ bottom line
On a practical level, employers should not feel much, if any, additional disruption to their foreign employee workforces due to this Proclamation because US immigration operations had already been substantially disrupted and slowed by previous actions taken by the Administration to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. Specifically, in mid-March, the State Department suspended routine visa processing services provided by all US Consulates and US embassies outside of the US, including green cards, so this Proclamation is redundant in its effect.
Since overseas visa processing services have been suspended, US employers are mostly limited to processing immigration benefits inside the US through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Because the Administration will be reviewing over the next thirty days whether it should also restrict or limit temporary non-immigrant visa programs, companies are well-advised to focus on timely filing visa extensions with USCIS as early as feasible to maximise a worker’s legal status and work authorisation in the event of administrative disruptions. Most extensions can be filed up to six months in advance. By timely filing extensions, many foreign workers will benefit from an automatic 240-day extension of work authorisation while the extension is being processed. In addition, many state Departments of Motor Vehicles have automatically extended expiring driver licenses in light of the pandemic and social distancing guidelines.
If a foreign worker must leave the US for any reason, please notify an experienced immigration legal advisor to evaluate whether the worker will be able to return to the US in light of any travel bans in place at that time. In addition, numerous countries outside the US have instituted their own travel restrictions, so it will be important consider those prior to any departure.