The U.S. Economy Is Surpassing Expectations. Immigration Is One Reason.

The U.S. Economy Is Surpassing Expectations. Immigration Is One Reason.

The U.S. economy’s recovery from the pandemic has been stronger and more sustained than many experts expected, and a rebound in immigration is a big reason why.

The resumption of visa processing in 2021 and 2022 boosted employment, allowing foreign-born workers to fill some gaps in the labor force that remained across industries and locations following the pandemic closures. Immigrants also fill a longer-term need: replenishing the workforce, a key to meeting labor needs as birth rates decline and older people retire.

Net migration reached its highest level since 2017 in the year ended July 1, 2023. The foreign-born now make up 18.6 percent of the labor force, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office expects immigration to rise in the next The number of working Americans will continue to decline for ten years. Balancing job seekers and opportunities is also crucial to curbing wage inflation and keeping prices under control.

International instability, economic crises, wars and natural disasters have led to a new wave of immigrants that could help close the still wide gap between labor demand and job applicants. But this potential economic dividend must contend with the tumultuous politics, logistical hurdles and administrative logjam that the recovery has created.

Visits to Texas on Thursday by President Biden and his likely election opponent, former President Donald J. Trump, highlight the political tensions. Mr. Biden is trying to manage a border situation that he recently described as “chaos,” and Mr. Trump has vowed to close the door after record numbers crossed the border under the Biden administration.

Since the start of fiscal year 2022, about 116,000 people have arrived as refugees, a status that comes with a government-funded resettlement network and immediate work eligibility. Several hundred thousand more who arrived from Ukraine and Afghanistan are entitled to similar benefits.

But far more – around 5.5 million – were caught at the borders and at airports and seaports. Not everyone is allowed to stay, but the vast majority of those who do receive little government support. People seeking asylum face long delays before they can work legally, and a busing campaign by southern governors has concentrated them in some cities that are struggling to accommodate them.

The need for workers is often greatest elsewhere. Steve Snyder, a sales representative for Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 157 in Lafayette, Indiana, and city council president, says his union is urgently looking for new members, especially given new infrastructure work in the area.

“I would welcome them with open arms, put them in a hotel and do my best to integrate them into our community because we have the need,” Mr. Snyder said. “It will be expensive, it will be unpleasant, but in my opinion it has to happen.”

Immigrants have given new life to shrinking cities before. Anuj Gupta runs the Welcoming Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit founded 20 years ago with the goal of reversing population decline by attracting immigrants. “This should be as bipartisan an issue as it can be in 2024 because the economy demands it, employers want it and the people coming are looking for work,” Mr. Gupta said.

The Biden administration has taken action to bring migrants into the workforce by expanding temporary protected status to Venezuelans who were in the United States before July 31, 2023, affecting 472,000 people. It also expanded the use of humanitarian parole for people from countries in turmoil, including Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua; The appointment typically lasts two years and requires applicants to have a financial sponsor in the United States.

People in these categories are immediately eligible for a work permit but still need to process it. The asylum procedure offers the prospect of legal work, but requires a waiting period of at least six months after applying for asylum. In 2022, one of these permits took an average of nine months to process.

State and local governments in New York and Illinois went full speed ahead late last year to get the paperwork started. Agencies began holding mass document processing events to get people into the pipeline and set up trade shows for those who made it. The average processing time for work permits for asylum seekers and probation officers is now less than a month.

As a result, the number of work permits granted to asylum seekers or granted asylum seekers, refugees, and those granted temporary protected status and parole increased from about 423,000 in 2022 to over 1.2 million in 2023, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

But completing paperwork is still a significant bottleneck. The number of adults crossing the border continues to outpace the number of work permit applications filed. It is difficult for people who do not speak English to complete them without legal assistance, which is in short supply and often requires fees and a consistent mailing address.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York has helped thousands with work permit paperwork. It also trains immigrants for specific roles, such as nanny roles, and provides safety training required for construction work.

One of the beneficiaries was Edgar Alayón.

Mr. Alayón, 32, was an accountant in Venezuela before he was forced out of the job for not supporting the Venezuelan government. He arrived in the United States in May and Texas offered free flights to New York, where he had heard the city would provide shelter.

Mr. Alayón was granted probation but did not work until he received his work permit in December. This allowed him to take jobs in construction and rent a small room in an apartment.

But he only gets work a few days a week and his work permit is only valid until May 2025. His goal is to get a green card, which would take away his fear of possible deportation and give him time to return to his former job.

“God willing, I have to work on it, I will get my residence permit,” Mr. Alayón said through a translator. “It would be an honor to be a citizen of this city and the United States, which offers us so many opportunities.”

But New York City isn’t the best place to look for a job. At 5.4 percent, the unemployment rate is well above the national average. Many jobs typically filled by immigrants, such as in hotels and restaurants, have never fully recovered from the pandemic. That has forced people to take jobs like food delivery, with low barriers to entry but lots of competition.

And the push for work permits for the new arrivals has caused some resentment among the millions of undocumented immigrants who still have no path to legal work permits.

“You have to make sure you don’t pit them against each other,” said James Parrott, director of economic and financial policy at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs. “While I believe that over time it will be a positive thing and they will integrate, in the short term it is very disruptive and people should not be indifferent.”

Dr. Parrott said it would be helpful if state governments made it easier to move to smaller cities that have more housing than the big cities where buses from Texas were unloaded. Some migrants have found their way to other locations, often with the help of free bus tickets, but it is not always clear what resources and opportunities await them.

Even for those who have found permanent employment, work permits are a temporary solution, while asylum courts continue to be overwhelmed with applications that now take years to decide, leaving applicants in constant uncertainty.

Yusuf Ali Sendil’s experience offers a glimpse of what the future might look like for millions of newcomers to the United States with tenuous legal status.

Dr. Sendil, a psychiatric researcher from Turkey, said he lost his job in 2017 for political reasons. With a research visa, he received a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University and later applied for asylum. Long processing times for an initial work permit forced him to postpone starting his residency at Rutgers.

Since this permit is only valid for two years, he has already applied for an extension. But although initial work permits are now issued quickly and last five years for some categories, renewals often take 16 months, according to federal data.

This means that Dr. Sendil could face a further period without a work permit, which could potentially be disruptive to his patients and jeopardize his career.

“If I don’t get it on time, I will lose my job, and if I don’t complete my residency, I won’t be able to apply for a job,” said Dr. Sendil, a member of the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, which represents hundreds of organizations and thousands of people in similar situations. “All of my colleagues are planning positions after their residency, but I really can’t because I don’t know what will happen.”

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2024-02-29 20:25:58