Trump is now blocking most of the legal paths to immigrate to the US

Original Story by Priscilla Alvarez and Catherin E. Shoichet for on July 9, 2020

As the coronavirus spreads around the world, the Trump administration has steadily choked off most avenues for legal immigration to the United States -- effectively shutting down the system that brings in hundreds of thousands of immigrants annually.

In a span of four months, people who legally migrated to the United States -- or are trying to -- have had their lives uprooted amid a litany of changes attributed to the pandemic. The abrupt changes have left immigrants and their families in limbo -- confused, frustrated, and scrambling to sort out their next steps.

The reasons provided by the Trump administration vary, from protecting American workers at a time when the unemployment rate is high to putting public health first.

This week, the futures of more than 1 million international students attending universities in the US became uncertain. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Monday that foreign students taking online-only courses -- which are becoming more common as universities move away from in-person classes amid the pandemic -- may need to transfer schools or leave the US.


ICE's announcement this week barring foreign students from taking online-only courses in the US caught many by surprise after the agency had provided more flexibility in the spring.

Visa requirements for students have always been strict, and coming to the US to take online-only courses has been prohibited. Under the rules, which officials argue were designed to maximize flexibility, students can stay enrolled in universities offering classes online, but won't be allowed to do so and remain in the US.


Over the course of Trump's presidency, the administration has overhauled the US immigration system, gutting asylum, reducing the number of refugee admissions to historic lows and severely curtailing legal immigration, among other changes.

The coronavirus pandemic sped up even more tweaks to the system that had previously struggled to gain momentum, such as largely barring entry of asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border and proposing to block asylum seekers on public health grounds.

In a pair of White House immigration proclamations issued in April and June, the administration suspended much of family-based immigration and a number of guest worker visas through the end of the year, with some exceptions. The Migration Policy Institute estimated that some 167,000 temporary workers will be kept out of the United States and 26,000 green cards will be blocked monthly.

As a result of the outbreak, consulates overseas had to close, making it nearly impossible for people overseas to obtain visas. Since January, the number of non-immigrant visas issued has plummeted 94%.

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