By next year, Donald Trump will have reduced legal immigration by 49% since becoming president. That will have significant repercussions for the nation’s economic growth, according to a new analysis. The cuts to legal immigration have come in several categories, and it appears the Trump administration is not finished restricting immigration.
Reducing legal immigration most harms refugees, employers and Americans who want to live with their spouses, parents or children, but it also affects the country’s future labor force and economic growth. “Average annual labor force growth, a key component of the nation’s economic growth, will be approximately 59% lower as a result of the administration’s immigration policies, if the policies continue,” according to an analysis from the National Foundation for American Policy. “Economic growth is crucial to improving the standard of living, which means lower levels of legal immigration carry significant consequences for Americans.”
Less immigration is likely to hold back America’s economic recovery from Covid-19. Economists at Oxford University and Citi concluded that without immigrants contributing to the quantity and quality of the labor supply, the majority of the economic growth gains America saw between 2011 and 2016 following the last recession would not have happened.
Economists Pia Orrenius and Chloe Smith of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that without immigration, the U.S. economy would struggle to grow. “Slowing labor force growth is the product of a number of factors – the aging of the U.S. population, retiring baby boomers and declining birth rates,” the economists wrote. “But another element is immigration. Immigrants and their children contributed more than one-half of workforce growth in the past two decades. The economy expands with growth in the labor force and its productivity. Due to the retirement of baby boomers and population aging in general, immigration will play an even larger role in workforce growth going forward than it has in the past. Absent offsetting increases in productivity growth, less immigration will, therefore, translate directly into slower gross domestic product growth.”
The National Foundation for American Policy projects that the number of legal immigrants will decline by 49% (or 581,845) between FY 2016 and FY 2021 due to Trump administration policies. (From the FY 2016 total of 1,183,505 down to 601,660 in FY 2021.) How did the Trump administration reduce legal immigration by 49% without changing U.S. immigration law? The answer is by using executive and administrative authorities, some of which are being challenged in court.
Below is a review of the impact of administration policies on legal immigration categories since Donald Trump became president.
Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens: The Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens category is projected to decline by over 50% between FY 2016 and FY 2021, meaning about 300,000 more spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens would have been reunited in FY 2021 absent Trump administration policies.
The three policies most responsible for the decline are the travel ban against primarily Muslim countries, the April 22, 2020, presidential proclamation to prevent the entry of parents of U.S. citizens (and others) and the public charge rule designed primarily to prevent family immigration. “The new public charge rule will likely have two separate impacts on numbers, principally on the immediate relatives and the family preference categories,” according to Jeffrey Gorsky, senior counsel at Berry Appleman & Leiden and a former State Department attorney. Gorsky said in an interview the most direct impact will be increased refusals on public charge grounds. But he thinks the complicated rules and enormous amount of new documentation will slow processing. “That would result in fewer cases making it through the pipeline,” he said.
Refugees (including the Cuban Adjustment Act): The number of refugees gaining permanent residence (a green card) is expected to decline significantly from FY 2016 to FY 2021. Refugees apply for and usually receive permanent residence (a green card) a year after arriving in the United States, which means the number who become permanent residents lags a year or more. Annual refugee admissions are determined by the president, although according to press reports White House senior adviser Stephen Miller has, in effect, personally determined the number of refugees admitted each year.
For FY 2020, the Trump administration established an annual ceiling for refugees 84% lower than the final year of the Obama administration (from 110,000 down to 18,000), and as of July 17, 2020, only 7,848 refugees have arrived in the United States in FY 2020.
Many refugees who “fled violent regimes” have resettled in Maine, reports Maria Sacchetti of the Washington Post. “Workers at a red-brick factory called American Roots had to decide amid a pandemic whether to come back to work. Instead of the usual sweatshirts and knit caps, they would churn out masks to protect front-line workers from the novel coronavirus,” according to Sacchetti. “Or they could take the safer route: Stay home and collect unemployment. Almost all were immigrants [including refugees] from Africa or the Middle East, and workers said none of them flinched when they gathered on the factory floor that morning in March. Everyone voted to keep stitching.”
In its statistics, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) includes Cubans paroled into the United States who after waiting a year (or more) applied for and received permanent residence under the Cuban Adjustment Act. New Trump administration policies that affect Cubans and the continuation of certain Obama-era practices have reduced Cuban numbers.
Asylees: Like refugees, asylees receive permanent residence a year or more after approval. The Trump administration has prevented Central Americans from applying for asylum at the border and made many other changes expected to lower the number of asylum applicants approved each year.
Family-Sponsored Preferences: The April 22, 2020, presidential proclamation to “suspend” the entry of immigrants seemed designed to prevent the adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens and the spouses, minor children and adult unmarried children of lawful permanent residents from immigrating to America. About 94% of individuals sponsored in the family preference categories must enter the United States to immigrate (as opposed to adjust status inside the country). Although the April proclamation acts as a virtual bar on the entry of new immigrants in the family preference categories, the public charge rule, if applied, would also prevent many people from gaining permanent residence.
The suspension will likely continue indefinitely if Donald Trump wins reelection unless a judge rules the proclamation to be unlawful. The American Immigration Lawyers Association, Justice Action Center and Innovation Law Lab recently filed a lawsuit against the proclamation on behalf of 23 individuals and organizations. Among the plaintiffs is Nazif Alam, a U.S. legal permanent resident, who cannot bring his wife from Bangladesh because of the proclamation. Alam works in the foodservice distribution industry in New York, which has become a high-risk but essential job during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Employment-Based Preferences: “A spillover of unused numbers from FY 2020 family-based preferences will be used for the employment-based category in FY 2021 up to the highest recent level of adjustments of status, which was approximately 220,000 in FY 2005,” according to the National Foundation for American Policy analysis. “However, it is possible U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will not achieve that level of processing and legal immigration in FY 2021 will be lower, particularly given the financial difficulties experienced by USCIS.”
Diversity Visas: The Diversity Visa category, a target of the Trump administration, will be zeroed out so long as the suspension on new immigrants continues. WBUR highlighted the stories of Diversity immigrants unable to come to America because of the April 22, 2020, proclamation, including Katia Karslidi, a writer and LGBTQ activist from Russia, and Mahmoud, an Egyptian accountant, who said, “The reason I’m chasing this dream, I don’t think it’s just me, it’s like everybody around the world is applying for the program because they believe the U.S. is the greatest nation.”
As the election nears, the Trump administration, under the guise of “merit-based” immigration, appears poised to enact other measures to reduce immigration. Currently, H-1B visa holders and many close relatives of U.S. citizens cannot come to America. In addition to broken dreams, if they remain in effect, the policies will reduce U.S. economic growth, meaning Americans will be much poorer than if the policies had never been enacted.