A US judge on Thursday temporarily lifted a visa ban on a large number of work permits, undercutting a measure that the Trump administration says will protect American jobs in a pandemic-hit economy.
US District Judge Jeffrey White said his ruling applied to members of organisations that sued the administration – the US Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, National Retail Federation, TechNet, a technology industry group, and Intrax, which sponsors cultural exchanges.
Mr White, ruling in Oakland, California, said his order did not extend beyond those groups but noted they are comprised of “hundreds of thousands of American businesses of all sizes from a cross-section of economic sectors” including Microsoft and Amazon.com.
Paul Hughes, a lawyer for the associations, said the Chamber of Commerce alone had “more than 300,000 members of all shapes and sizes across the United States”.
The injunction, which lifts the ban while the case is being litigated, is at least a temporary setback for the administration's efforts to limit legal immigration during the coronavirus outbreak.
Mr White, an appointee of former president George W Bush, said President Donald Trump likely acted outside bounds of his authority.
“There must be some measure of constraint on presidential authority in the domestic sphere in order not to render the executive an entirely monarchical power in the immigration context, an area within clear legislative prerogative,” the judge wrote.
The ban, which took effect in June and is scheduled to last until the end of this year, applies to H-1B visas, which are widely used by major American and Indian technology companies, H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers, J visas for cultural exchanges and L visas for managers and other key employees of multinational corporations.
It was the second time in three days that the same judge blocked a significant change on immigration. On Tuesday, Mr White halted major fee increases for citizenship and other benefits three days before they were to take effect.
The Homeland Security and Justice departments did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
The National Association of Manufacturers said the ruling would help with “crucial, hard-to-fill jobs to support economic recovery, growth and innovation when we most need it”.
"Today's decision is a temporary win for manufacturers committed to building that innovation in the United States," said Linda Kelly, the group's senior vice president and general counsel. "A long-term win for manufacturers requires policymakers to support meaningful reforms to our immigration laws that recognise the critical link between smart immigration policy and America’s competitive advantage.”