In May, the U.S. experienced an unemployment rate of 13.3 percent. The Congressional Budget Office expects that rate to remain above 10 percent throughout the year.
This pandemic-stricken economy is not exactly crying out for more labor — quite the opposite — which means we should tap the brakes on our dysfunctional legal-immigration system. President Trump has done just that with a new proclamation restricting many types of immigration through the end of the year. The order is both legally sound and good policy.
Whenever a major policy change comes from the executive branch rather than the legislature, we first ask whether the president really has the power to do what he has done. In this case the answer is clear: Current law gives the president incredibly broad authority to restrict immigration he deems “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
We wish Congress would not delegate its powers so extensively. But it has, and therefore it falls under the president’s purview to decide whether the pandemic has temporarily changed America’s immigration needs. Seeing the jobless rate elevated throughout the economy, he has decided, correctly, that yes, it has.
The new rules apply to a broad swath of legal immigration. They extend a previous order restricting new green cards. They also cut back on the H-1B visa, a favorite of tech companies both because it allows them to bring in rare talent from abroad and because it allows them to replace American workers with lower-paid foreigners acquired through outsourcing firms. Also affected are visas for temporary low-skill workers, au pairs, exchange students, and employees whom companies wish to transfer from foreign offices to American ones.
More notable, however, is what the order does not affect. It exempts everyone who is already in the country — so it will not disrupt the lives of people who have come here, only stop additional immigrants from arriving while the economy is struggling. It also exempts workers crucial to the nation’s food supply, those treating or researching COVID-19, and several other categories, including a catch-all of immigrants whose entry, in the administration’s judgment, “would be in the national interest.” And visa processing abroad has already slowed to a halt thanks to the pandemic, further limiting the proclamation’s impact.
One can debate the appropriate boundaries of these exceptions, of course, but the order is far more flexible and limited than its critics would have us think. It should leave the great majority of visas and green cards untouched.
It is entirely sensible to scale back immigration during an economic crisis, and the president has the authority to do so. If Congress doesn’t like his decision, it is free to change the law at any time.