President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he was suspending immigration for green-card seekers for 60 days, arguing the controversial move would protect US jobs.
Trump offered the first details about a vague announcement he made on Monday night, addressing an issue key to his conservative base as the country is ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 43,000 people dead in the US.
By pausing immigration, it will help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens, Trump said at his daily pandemic briefing.
This pause will be in effect for 60 days he said, adding that he would decide on any extension or changes based on economic conditions at the time.
The Republican president said the order would only apply to individuals seeking a permanent residency - in other words, those receiving green cards.
It will not apply to those entering on a temporary basis, he added.
The Wall Street Journal reported, before Trump spoke, that the eventual executive order could include exceptions for farm and health care workers.
The US government issued 462,000 visas in fiscal 2019, according to official data - a major drop from the 617,000 visas granted in 2016 under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.
Before Trump's briefing, Texas lawmaker Joaquin Castro slammed what he called an attempt to divert attention away from Trump's failure to stop the spread of the coronavirus and save lives.
In a tweet, Castro accused Trump of an authoritarian-like move to take advantage of a crisis and advance his anti-immigrant agenda.
The Supreme Court has in recent months offered several significant victories to the Trump administration in cases relating to immigration. A month ago, the high court allowed the federal government to maintain a policy that will send more than 60,000 asylum seekers back to Mexico.