But fast-tracking the rule-making process on foreign workers could invite legal challenges from opponents who say the administration did not follow the rules. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Trump violated the Administrative Procedure Act when he tried to terminate an Obama-era program aimed at protecting young immigrants from deportation.
“The government could try and fast-track that process by not allowing the public to weigh in on the changes before they go into effect, but it is difficult to see that process surviving court review,” said Lynden Melmed, an immigration lawyer and the former chief counsel of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Amid the pandemic, the Trump administration has seized on the threat to public health as a pretext to issue a series of policy changes affecting almost every aspect of the immigration system, including asylum and green cards. While many changes have been announced as temporary, they could remain in place indefinitely.
But critics say the administration has used the health crisis and the economic meltdown it has caused as pretext to put in place restrictions that further its immigration agenda.
While Mr. Trump and his aides said the suspension of visas was in response to the pandemic, the administration has been pursuing the same broad reductions to legal immigration policies for years, including during times when unemployment was at its lowest in decades. In 2017, the president endorsed the RAISE Act, a Republican Senate bill that would have cut legal immigration, including business visas, by about 50 percent.
In the weeks leading up to the announcement on Monday, a diverse coalition of businesses and research universities had lobbied fiercely, flooding the White House with letters and phone calls, in an attempt to limit the scope of the executive order.
“It’s the largest crackdown on work visas that I have seen in my 35 years of practice,” said Steve Yale-Loehr, a Cornell law professor. “Thousands of businesses and universities will be hurt by these restrictions. Similarly, individuals will be stuck overseas unable to help the U.S. economy recover.”