US president Donald Trump has signed an executive order suspending the approval of some green card applications for a period of 60-days.
The new law could be extended beyond that threshold depending on the performance of the US economy and the spread of coronavirus.
The intention is to prevent green card holders from sponsoring members of their extended family for permanent residence in the US. The Diversity Visa Lottery scheme which issues around 50,000 green cards per year has also been frozen.
Most visa processing in the US has already been suspended as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, yet the US Migration Policy Institute has said that the new order could prevent around 20,000 people per month from receiving a green card.
However, there are exceptions to the rule for the spouses of American citizens, unmarried children under 21, and existing green card applicants who are already living and working in the country.
Other exceptions include applicants hoping to work in the healthcare industry, and temporary guest visas under the H-1B visa programme to ensure that farm labourers and skilled workers are not denied entry.
Trump informed the media from the White House this week that the new regulations will protect American jobs.
Trump said: “This [order] will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens”.
Over 20 million American citizens have declared themselves unemployed as a result of the pandemic.
The executive order is the latest in a number of restrictions introduced in the US in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Restrictions are in place for individuals travelling from China and Europe, while the borders with Canada and Mexico have been closed to all but essential travel.
The US has also rejected asylum seekers at the borders under a 1944 public health law.
However, Trump’s critics have accused him of using the pandemic to implement hard-line immigration policies prior to the presidential election in November, and drawing attention away from his response to the outbreak in the US.