“President Trump is focused on getting Americans back to work as quickly as possible,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.
Trump had endlessly touted a strong economy, but now finds himself desperate for a political boost ahead of the November election.
An executive order, expected later Monday, will extend and widen the 60-day freeze Trump placed on new work permits for non-US citizens two months ago.
The administration official said the new order would extend to the end of 2020 and include H1-B visas provided to 85,000 workers each year with special skills, many of them joining the US technology industry.
It will also cover most J visas, common for academics and researchers, and L visas used by companies to shift workers based overseas to their US offices.
The official said the order was necessary to respond to soaring unemployment that resulted from the COVID-19 shutdown.
The official stressed the H1-B visa freeze was temporary while the program is restructured, from an annual lottery that feeds coders and other specialists to Silicon Valley, to a system the gives priority to those foreign workers with the most value.
Trump “is going to prioritize those workers who are offered the highest wages,” as an indicator that they can add more value to the US economy, the official said.
“It will eliminate competition with Americans… in these industries at the entry level, and will do more to get the best and the brightest.”