As the Covid-19 pandemic continues into its third year, Boundless revisited the data analyzing the impact the pandemic has – and continues to have – on immigration and immigrant communities in the United States.
visa numbers still not at pre-covid levels
Unsurprisingly, there was a dramatic decline in the number of visas issued by the U.S. Department of State (DOS), falling nearly 94% from October 2019, when 750,434 visas were issued, to only 48,376 visas issued in April 2020. And though the number of visas issued by DOS has climbed significantly since the historical lows of April and May 2020, as of December 2021 they had not yet reached pre-pandemic levels.
Additionally, the virtual stoppage of visa processing during 2020 added more than 460,000 people to the visa backlog as of late 2021, while the green card backlog exploded and tens of thousands of green cards went to waste at the end of the fiscal year in October 2021.
drastic drop in immigrant workers
In one of the more visible effects of the pandemic’s impact on immigration, already serious labor shortages were made drastically worse by the ongoing absence of millions of immigrant workers.
In the short space of time between February and April 2020, the U.S. lost 6 million foreign-born workers from the labor market, representing a 21% decrease in the immigrant workforce. Adding insult to injury, from March 2020 to July 2021, the number of work visas issued fell by 1.2 million cases, and by December 2021 the number of working age immigrants in the U.S. had decreased by 2 million.
According to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), part of DHS, “essential workers” are those “needed to maintain the services and functions Americans depend on daily and that need to be able to operate resiliently during the COVID-19 pandemic response.” During the pandemic, millions of immigrants served on the front lines as essential workers, with some estimates putting their number at 19.8 million, and nearly 1.5 million working in the healthcare industry alone. Of those 1.5 million healthcare workers,Boundless found that nearly 200,000 were recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The pandemic and its attendant policies have also impacted U.S. land border crossings, which closed along the north and the southwest in March 2020. On the heels of the pandemic border closures, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an emergency rule which allowed the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to “prohibit … the introduction” of individuals when the Director believes that “there is serious danger of the introduction of [a communicable] disease into the United States.” This is the policy now known as Title 42.
The unintended effect of Title 42 was that it drove up border crossing numbers, as people who were “expelled” under the order often simply turned around and tried to enter again. Despite nearly twice as many border apprehensions in FY 2021 than in FY 2019, the actual number of people encountered at the border was only 45% higher than in 2019.
To learn more about the ways the pandemic has affected immigrants, the immigration system, and the U.S. economy, read the full report here!