Immigrants could help the US labor shortage — if the government would let them

“Amid nationwide labor shortages in critical industries, more than a million immigrants are waiting on the US government to issue them work permits. Without these permits, many could lose their jobs, and some already have.

Biraj Nepal, a Nepali asylum seeker living in Woodland, California, has been working as a software engineer in the IT department of a bank for the last four years. Nepal went on unpaid administrative leave starting on January 26 because his work permit expired and the government has yet to process his renewal application. That has left his employer in a lurch: There’s long been a shortage of IT workers, and the pandemic accelerated that trend as companies went remote. Now, nearly a third of IT executives say that the search for qualified employees has gotten “significantly harder.”

If Nepal isn’t issued a new work permit within 90 days of taking administrative leave, his company will, by law, no longer be able to hold his job for him and will likely look for a contractor to fill his role. Under normal circumstances, that wouldn’t be a concern; work permits are meant to be issued quickly so that immigrants can be self-sufficient even while they are waiting on other applications for visas and green cards, which can take months or years to process. But the backlog at US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reached crisis level.”

“The pandemic is partly to blame. Monthslong USCIS office closures and staff shortages have created a backlog of more than 8 million applications across all types of immigration benefits — including green cards, visas, and protection from deportation — and most work permit applicants have to be photographed and fingerprinted in person. USCIS was also plagued by a budget crisis under the Trump administration, and work permit applications spiked last fiscal year to an all-time high of 2.6 million, straining the agency’s capacity.

Under President Joe Biden, USCIS has taken some measures to combat the problem, though has stopped short of automatically extending the validity period of expired work permits as advocates have requested. It temporarily waived fingerprinting requirements for some applicants, exempted spouses of certain visa holders from having to apply separately for work authorization, and extended the validity period of newly issued work permits from one to two years for some immigrants who have been admitted to the US on humanitarian grounds. It has also hired new staff, including 200 people in the agency’s asylum division, to address the backlog. But it’s not clear why the agency hasn’t also adopted the extension policy that activists have called for.

Earlier this month, a federal court vacated two Trump-era rules that had restricted access to work permits for asylum seekers, meaning that their applications could be processed more quickly going forward.

“Agency personnel is addressing outstanding processing issues and making changes to underlying procedures to achieve new efficiencies while ensuring the integrity and security of the immigration system. This includes improving processing times and decreasing pending cases,” said Matthew Bourke, a USCIS spokesperson.

But the backlog remains too large to be solved quickly by USCIS’s new policies or the court decisions. That would require additional regulatory action: In addition to extending the validity of expired work permits, the government could also streamline the application form for work permits to speed up processing, Cruz said. That could help immigrants who can’t afford to wait much longer for their applications to be approved.”

New law to combat forced labor in China sparks enforcement debate

“President Joe Biden..signed a bill to curb forced labor in China that U.S. business groups and trade experts warn will inflict unnecessary pain on U.S. firms and punish legitimately employed Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which was approved after more than a year’s delay, is designed to insulate U.S. companies and consumers from complicity in forced labor practices in Xinjiang. The U.S. government has concluded that the practices are among abusive state policies targeting Uyghurs that constitute genocide.

But industry groups and trade lawyers say the law’s strict compliance standards coupled with problematic Customs and Border Protection enforcement will harm both U.S. business interests and Uyghur Muslims.”

““If you’re a company who is manufacturing in that area, you’re going to need to prove that slaves didn’t make it. The presumption is on you,” Rubio said after the bill’s Dec. 16 Senate passage.”

“Assertions of the law’s stringent compliance standards are no exaggeration. It imposes a presumption of guilt in terms of forced labor links to any Xinjiang-sourced imports — predominately agricultural and chemical products — and obligates importers to provide documentation that proves its Xinjiang supply chains are not tied to forced labor.

The experience of solar and apparel companies from previous forced labor enforcement actions by Customs and Border Protection suggest that the new law’s compliance standards will be “practically impossible” to meet, said former CBP trade lawyer Richard Mojica.”

“Mojica and other trade lawyers say the law’s compliance requirements will most seriously impact small- and medium-sized U.S. firms that lack in-house expertise to reliably map complex overseas supply chains.”

‘Expect additional long-term damage’: U.S. labor shortage exacerbated by immigration slowdown

“Immigration into America has slowed down tremendously, which may hurt the labor market and economic growth as the country tries to bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new note from J.P. Morgan.

“Population slowdown threatens trend growth,” the Nov. 12 note stated, highlighting the fact that due to more aging boomers retiring from the workforce and 3 million fewer immigrants in the country, trend labor force growth is going to be limited at only 0.1% per year and risks hurting overall GDP growth.”

““Immigration is crucial to growing the labor force and for economic growth, particularly in the medium and long term,” Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, told Yahoo Finance.

Anderson added that the Trump administration’s policies greatly limited legal migration and the pandemic worsened the numbers overall, contributing to a shortage of available workers. “If similar policies were to resume in 2025, expect additional long-term damage to U.S. economic growth and the American labor market,” Anderson warned.

J.P. Morgan researchers noted that the Census Bureau estimated that the working age population (ages 16 to 64) peaked in 2019, and has been “falling for almost two years,””

Immigrants could fix the US labor shortage

“Companies across the United States can’t find enough employees. One immediate solution is simple: Bring in more foreign workers.

The US needs roughly 10 million people, including low-wage and high-skilled workers, to fill job openings nationwide — and only 8.4 million Americans are actively seeking work.

And despite job openings hitting historic highs in July and extended unemployment benefits ending in September, Americans aren’t returning to work, especially in low-wage industries. At the same time, workers are resigning in record numbers. And though consumer spending has surged this year, businesses don’t have the people to meet demand — to cope, some companies are raising their prices. Supply chain bottlenecks are even threatening to ruin Christmas.

When the economy is fragile, there’s an instinct to shut borders to protect American workers. And indeed, that’s what the US has done during the pandemic, practically bringing legal immigration to a halt and closing the southern border to migrants and asylum seekers. In a normal year, the US welcomes roughly 1 million immigrants, and roughly three-quarters of them end up participating in the labor force. In 2020, that number dropped to about 263,000.

Generally, economic research has shown that the arrival of low-wage foreign workers has little to no negative impact on native-born workers’ wages or employment. And under the current circumstances, welcoming more low-wage foreign workers could address acute labor shortages in certain industries, helping hard-hit areas of the country recover while staving off higher inflation.

The industries currently facing the worst labor shortages include construction; transportation and warehousing; accommodation and hospitality; and personal services businesses like salons, dry cleaners, repair services, and undertakers. All four industries had increases in job postings of more than 65 percent when comparing the months of May to July 2019 to the same time period in 2021, according to an analysis conducted for Vox by the pro-immigration New American Economy think tank. Immigrants make up at least 20 percent of the workforce in those industries.”