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Bolstering Employment-Based Immigration Key to U.S. Economic Recovery, Study Finds

Jun 11, 2021

An immigrant H-1B visa worker

U.S. employers are struggling to fill computer-related roles, but restrictive immigration policies are stopping them from hiring foreign workers, which could lead to a slower economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic, a new study released Thursday found.

Of all the H-1B work visa applications submitted by employers in 2020, computer-related jobs made up 69.6%, an increase of roughly 30,000 requests from 2019, found the report, released by immigrant research group New American Economy. Employment-based visas are subject to annual caps — currently 85,000 – but according to the study, employers filed 275,000 H-1B applications in FY 2019.

“More nuanced and responsive policy around employment-based immigration could be one way to help the U.S. more quickly and more robustly bounce back from the Covid-19 and future economic disruptions and crises,” wrote the authors of the report.

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Levels of unemployment barely increased for computer-related occupations during the pandemic. In 2020, the unemployment rate for computer- and mathematics-related occupations was 3%, a slight increase from 2019. By March 2021, the unemployment rate had dropped to just 1.9%, lower than it was before the pandemic began.

U.S. employers rely on foreign workers to fill skills gaps. In 2019, immigrants made up 25% of the workforce in computer-related fields, compared to 17.4% of the general work force.

“America’s increasingly protectionist immigration system dissuades employers from seeking much-needed labor, even when it cannot source talent domestically,” according to the report. “Given that high-skilled workers tend to work in high-tech industries, which tend to be more productive and faster-growing, not allowing employers to fill critical gaps in their workforces effectively keeps them from fulfilling their full economic potential for the rest of the U.S. economy.”

For more information, read the full report here.

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