Biden’s immigration woes are compounding US labor shortages

Joe Biden’s latest move to reverse Donald Trump’s restrictive immigration policies has enraged Republican lawmakers and exposed Democrat divisions on Capitol Hill, even as business groups push for more liberal rules to address labor shortages.

Last Friday, the Biden administration completely rescinded the so-called Title 42 policy that was imposed on it Trump card This allowed US authorities to turn back anyone crossing the southern border in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In response, Republicans threatened to block coronavirus-funding legislation, while Democrats who hold vulnerable Senate seats — including Arizona’s Mark Kelly, Georgia’s Raphael Warnock and Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto — have criticized the lifting of the restrictions.

The political backlash to the president’s attempt to ease restrictions threatens to jeopardize support from voters concerned about excessive immigration ahead of November’s midterm elections, which will see a razor-thin majority of Democrats in Congress at stake.

But as the US grapples with a tight labor market coupled with runaway inflation, business leaders argue the country cannot afford to block entry for both high-skilled and blue-collar workers.

“The business community has a firm belief that we need to fix the system,” said Dane Linn, vice president for immigration policy at the Business Roundtable, a major business lobby organization. “We can’t fill all the positions by simply nurturing the talent that we have here in the United States. We have to nurture that talent, but we also have to attract it[workers]. . . from all over the world.”

Late last year, the US Census Bureau said international immigration to the US was at its lowest level in decades. International net migration added 247,000 people to the population between 2020 and 2021, the office said, compared with a peak of more than 1 million between 2015 and 2016 and lower than the net inflow of 477,000 people added between 2019 and 2020.

Biden has come regularly Under fire for what its critics are arguing is a hyper-liberal policy on the US-Mexico border. Title 42 has already been suspended unaccompanied childrenbut a subsequent increase in the number of crossings has left the White House struggling to find adequate stopping facilities.

“The border kind of hijacks all the oxygen around the immigration debate,” said Jennifer Minear, immigration attorney at McCandlish Holton. “Anytime anyone says anything that suggests a more sane immigration system . . . The other side can easily point and say, ‘Oh, you’re an open-border Democrat, you believe anyone can come into the country.’”

Bar chart showing the number of immigrants to the United States has decreased since 2016

In March 2020, the US closed its land borders between Mexico and Canada to stop the spread of the coronavirus. They remained suspended until last November.

But immigration to the country was already declining before the pandemic hit. The number of visas issued by State Department missions abroad fell by 25 percent between 2016 and 2019. Between 2016 and 2020, the number of visas issued fell by more than 60 percent.

Minear said an “invisible wall of policy changes” introduced by Trump aimed at denying and delaying visa applications, combined with anti-immigrant rhetoric, likely fueled the decline.

Business groups have been pushing for more liberal visa conditions for high-skill professionals, arguing that increased immigration to the US would help close job vacancies amid widespread labor shortages.

The US Chamber of Commerce estimated last month that there were 4.75 million more job openings in the US than people looking for work, arguing that less legal immigration is one reason.

Sharvari Dalal-Dheini, a former US immigration attorney and director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said Aila had heard from employers who couldn’t secure workers.

“It affects supply chains and inflation,” Dalal-Dheini said. “I hope Congress will recognize and act on that, although I don’t know before the midterms if anyone is willing to do anything about immigration because it’s such a divisive political issue.”

Immigration attorneys have expressed frustration that while Biden has lifted some of Trump’s visa restrictions, his administration still plans to make some work permits potentially more difficult to obtain.

While Biden has let Trump’s ban on reissuing green cards and some work visas expire, his administration still intends to introduce rules requiring higher wages for foreign workers on H-1B visas to prevent foreigners from undercutting potential US employment.

But the higher wage rules are consistent with some Democrats’ protectionist instincts on trade and immigration.

Last month, Dick Durbin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration policy, along with Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, reintroduced legislation to tighten restrictions on the H-1B and L visa programs.

Durbin said loopholes in the programs allowed companies to “displace skilled American workers,” “exploit foreign workers,” and “facilitate the outsourcing of American jobs.”

Ronil Hira, associate professor at Howard University and author of Outsource America, said employers have incentives to hire workers with H-1B visas because they can pay them lower wages than US employees. Hira added US employers should also be required to show they tried and failed to hire a US citizen for the job.

“I think we should have high-skilled immigrants, but we should do it in a way that’s fair to both immigrants and US workers,” Hira said. “In a tight labor market, it should be easy to pay high wages and demonstrate shortage.”

Minear said she felt Biden’s record on the border issue was “mixed.” “In the past year he’s done quite a lot to alleviate all the misery that has been inflicted on the immigration system in the four years before him,” she said.

“I think it’s important for us to get some perspective on this mountain we’re climbing to get to a better immigration policy amid a political reality that makes this very, very, very difficult for any administration.” Biden’s immigration woes are compounding US labor shortages

Adam Bradshaw

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