Immigration Rebound Eases Shortage of Workers, Up to a Point

“It’s gotten a little bit better, but we’re seeing a drop in permanent visas and an increase in temporary ones,” Mr. Flores said. “At some point those folks have to move on, sometimes to other countries where there’s more open arms. And that’s tough for us, because we need the labor.”

The path of immigration policy will have a substantial bearing on the nation’s supply of workers, which has been expanding more slowly as native-born workers have fewer children. The Congressional Budget Office projects that by 2042, net immigration will be the nation’s only source of population growth.

The dip in immigration occurred in multiple ways, beginning with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as president in 2017. The cap on refugees allowed to enter the United States dropped to 15,000 in 2020, the lowest level in decades. Measures like a ban on immigrants from Muslim countries, even though the courts eventually overturned it, deterred people from trying to come.

Some of Mr. Trump’s changes were more subtle. The Department of Homeland Security slow-walked visas by asking for more evidence and interviews, said Shev Dalal-Dheini, head of government affairs for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and then it shut down processing — which is largely paper-based, not electronic — during the pandemic.

Even when lockdowns eased, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had a difficult time ramping back up because with no processing fees, it lacked the funds to rehire staff who had left. Staffing at U.S. embassies, which conduct visa interviews in other countries, had also atrophied.

“They’ve had to play catch-up with that for a long, long time,” said Ms. Dalal-Dheini, who left the immigration agency in 2019. “Once the Biden administration came in, they reset some of those policies designed to slow down the process, and then were focused on building back up their work force.”

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