President Trump. RollingNews.ie file photo.
By Ray O'Hanlon
It began, as it often does, with a Tweet.
It ended, as it often does, with a state of some confusion.
But also with one clear cut effect: suspension of the Diversity Visa Lottery, virtually the only means by which Irish people can access a U.S. Green Card on a general, non-specialized basis.
At the beginning of the week, President Donald Trump signaled on Twitter that he would be moving to suspend immigration by way of an executive order, this on the grounds that it would protect American jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The move was also portrayed as a means of combatting Covid-19 itself, the "invisible enemy" as the president dubbed it.
This was stated in the face of the fact that just about all immigrants arriving, or due to arrive in the U.S., would be departing countries less ravaged by coronavirus than the United States, the most heavily infected country in the world.
At first it looked as if the immigration ban, initially for sixty days with the possibility of an extension, would be wide ranging.
President Trump duly signed the executive order, but reports indicate that its effect might be relatively limited because there are so many exemptions being applied for the likes of, and as the Washington Post reported, anyone who is currently in the country, those seeking entry to work as physicians and nurses, wealthy foreign investors, and the spouses and minor children of American citizens.
The 60-day pause also leaves untouched the hundreds of thousands of temporary work and student visas the U.S. issues each year, the Post report on Thursday stated.
Added the report; "That left partisans on both sides of the immigration battle accusing Trump of being driven more by politics than policy as he tries to rally voters in an election year.
"Yet experts say that, if the order is made permanent, it would also satisfy Trump’s long-stalled push to end what he calls 'chain migration.' It’s the latest example of his administration using the pandemic as cover to enact immigration policy changes he has long championed."
Chain Migration is another term for family reunification which has been at the center of U.S. immigration policy since passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act.
The president's order, meanwhile, would appear to just put a formal stamp on a de facto situation. As a result of Covid-19 U.S. consulates around the world have been closed and the processing of immigration documents, most notably green card applications, has been halted.
Those applying for green cards already in the U.S. will likely see delays in what is typically a tortuous process, but they will be able to remain in the country.
At the same time, there is now concern that the president's move might be part of a wider strategy, in an election year, to significantly reduce legal immigration, thus satisfying supporters who want to see America's door more closed than open.
As things have stood in recent years, roughly a million people immigrate legally to the United Staes each year, but advocates for reduced immigration have pressed for reducing that figure by half or more.
Those advocates have long had the Diversity Visa Lottery - which goes back to immigration legislation passed in 1990 with the Irish very much in mind - in their crosshairs.
In most recent years, however, only a handful of Irish applicants have succeeded in obtaining Diversity Visa green cards. The annual lottery distributes 50,000 to eligible countries, including Ireland, both the Republic and the North.
However, Irish applicants are invariably swamped by millions of applications from eligible countries around the world and the annual Irish allotment can lately be measured in mere dozens, with a couple of hundred visas counting as a standout year.