The Trump administration has extended a temporary ban on green cards issued overseas, while adding a number of work visas to the ban.
The original 60-day green card freeze set to expire on Monday will now last until the end of the year. The ban means no one outside the US will be eligible to work in the country barring some exemptions.
In an economy suffering from coronavirus, the ban has been presented as a way to free up jobs for Americans.
A senior official who spoke anonymously to reporters estimated the ban would open up 525,000 jobs for Americans.
The ban is currently temporary and would cause significant restructuring if it were to be made permanent, a goal the Trump administration has had its eye on well before the economic downfall of the COVID-19 pandemic, AP reports.
The affected non-immigrant work visas include; H-1B visas used to employ specialised workers, H-2B visas used for non-agricultural workers, J-1 visas used for educational and cultural exchange and the L-1 visa which allows for corporation workers to relocate to the US.
Exemptions to the ban include food processing workers which make up 15% of H-2B visas. Limited exemptions will also be made for healthcare workers employed to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move to include working visas in the ban appeases immigration hardliners who were quick to criticise the previous ban for not going far enough.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Centre for Immigration Studies told AP: "not all the items on our checklist of needed actions are included in today's announcement, but the corporate lobbyists who were desperately fighting for exceptions to protect their clients' access to cheap foreign labour have largely been rebuffed"
BSA, a group representing major software companies, told AP they believed the ban would burden the US COVID-19 economic recovery.
"Filling these roles that are more abundant than the number of US employees qualified to fill them means these jobs can be kept in the US." BSA said "This allows companies based in
the US to remain globally competitive, which in turn boosts the US economy, creating jobs for millions of Americans.”
AP reports, tech companies are the highest users of H-1B visas. Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. employs the highest number of people on H-1B visas, followed by companies such as Deloitte, Amazon, Apple and Google. Critics say these companies are using the visa to replace American workers.
The visa freeze will come into effect immediately.