Neha Mahajan was a television journalist in India before her husband’s job moved her family to the United States in 2008. She spent years locked in the job market, confined by what she calls the “golden cage” of her immigration status, one in which the pandemic put her back.
Mahajan started working after a change in regulations from the Barack Obama administration in 2015 allowed people with a spouse visa to have a job and in early 2021 she took a new business development job at an immigration law firm. However, processing delays related to the pandemic caused her work authorization to expire in July, forcing her to take a permit.
“It affects you emotionally and it drains you,” said Mahajan, 39, who lives in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.
Last week he gave her a break, albeit only temporarily. You received the approval documents for your renewed work authorization, allowing you to return to the workforce. However, a process that should have lasted three months was extended to ten, leaving her on the sidelines all summer. And since her visa is linked to her husband’s, she will have to reapply for authorization in December when his visa is renewed.
Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers have disappeared from the job market as the coronavirus pandemic drags on, leaving gaps in white-collar professions like Mahajan’s and more service-oriented jobs in beach towns and ski resorts. . Newcomers and applicants for temporary visas were initially limited by policy changes from previous President Donald Trump, who used a series of executive orders to curb many types of legal immigration. Then, the pandemic’s travel restrictions and bureaucratic delays caused immigration to plummet, threatening a loss of talent and long-term economic potential.
Some of those potential missing employees are likely to come to work when travel restrictions are lifted and visa processing delays are fixed, as Mahajan’s example suggests. However, recent immigration lost to the pandemic is likely to leave a permanent hole. Goldman Sachs estimated in research this month that the economy was short of 700,000 temporary visa holders and permanent immigrant workers, and that perhaps 300,000 of those people would never come to work in the United States.
Employers constantly complain that they are having difficulty hiring and job openings outnumber people actively seeking work, despite millions fewer workers compared to the pre-pandemic time. The drop in immigration is one of the many reasons for that disconnect. Businesses that rely on foreign workers have found waves of infections and delays in consulate paperwork keeping potential employees in their home countries or trapped in the United States, but unable to work.
“Employers are having to wait a long time for their petitions to be approved and renewals are not being processed in a timely manner,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration attorney who teaches at Cornell University School of Law. “It will take a long time to resolve the delay.”
The entry of workers had already slowed long before the pandemic, as a result of an offensive by the Trump administration that made it difficult for foreign workers, refugees and family members of immigrants to enter the United States. But the pandemic came during that decline and accelerated it dramatically: Global visa issuance fell by 4.7 million last year.