US President Joe Biden has lifted a restriction placed on the issuance of green cards.
In April 2020, former President Donald Trump blocked the issuance of new green cards as a move to “protect American jobs”.
He had argued that the ban, which blocked US permanent residence for Nigerians and other countries, was needed to protect US workers amid the high unemployment rate induced by the coronavirus pandemic.
But in a proclamation issued on Wednesday, Biden said the ban has caused much harm with no good.
“To the contrary, it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here,” the New York Times quoted him to have said
“It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world. By pausing immigration, we will help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens.
“It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labour flown in from abroad. We must first take care of the American worker.”
The proclamation is the latest in a series of presidential actions Biden has taken to upend policies introduced by the Trump administration.
Immediately after his inauguration in January, he lifted the ban on immigrant visa which Trump had imposed on Nigeria and six other countries after expanding his controversial immigration policies.
Most immigrant visas were blocked by the orders, according to immigration lawyers.
As many as 120,000 family-based preference visas were lost largely because of the pandemic-related freeze in the 2020 budget year, according to the American Immigrant Lawyers Association. Immigrants could not bring over family members unless they were U.S. citizens applying for visas for their spouses or children under the age of 21.
It also barred entry to immigrants with employment-based visas unless they were considered beneficial to the national interest such as health care professionals.
And it slammed the door on thousands of visa lottery winners who were randomly chosen from a pool of about 14 million applicants to be given green cards that would let them live permanently in the United States.
The blocked visas add to a growing backlog that has reached 437,000 for family-based visas alone, said California immigration lawyer Curtis Morrison, who represented thousands of people blocked by the freeze.
“I’m thrilled for my clients who are now in a position that they can now enter the U.S.,” he said. “But that backlog will take years if the administration does not take ambitious measures.”
A federal judge last year issued a ruling that all but lifted Proclamation 10052 by allowing temporary foreign workers to enter the United States if their employers are members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or several other large organizations that represent much of the U.S. economy.
But Proclamation 10014 continued to block thousands of immigrants.
Immigration lawyers said they were surprised Biden did not immediately lift the freeze like he did with Trump’s travel ban imposed against people from mostly Muslim-majority countries. As a result, some immigrants blocked by the travel ban found they still could not come to the United States because of the freeze.
Biden’s actions come only days after thousands of visa lottery winners at risk of having their visas expire won a court order that put their visas on hold by the judge in the case. Now they will be allowed to use their visas to enter the country.
The United States makes available up to 55,000 visas a year for immigrants whose nationalities are underrepresented in the U.S. population. The visas must be used within six months of being obtained.
Meanwhile, Biden has proposed legislation that would limit presidential authority to issue future bans against immigrants.
The president has not said whether there will be any redress for visa lottery winners who lost out because of the pandemic-era policies. But he is calling for the U.S. to increase the number of diversity visas available via the lottery each year from 55,000 to 80,000.