The Decline of Legal Immigration
Legal immigration collapsed in the last year of the Trump administration. The number of green cards issued abroad were declining prior to the pandemic, partly for policy and other reasons, but the American government’s overreaction to COVID-19 caused immigration to collapse as we’ve detailed here, here, here, here, and here.
Since President Biden took office in January 2021, the recovery of legal immigration has been much slower than we anticipated. The new vaccine mandate for immigrants (as we’re seeing in other countries with the Novak Djokovic scandal), the remaining closure of many embassies and consulates that reduce interviews for visas and their subsequent issuance, the delayed release of extra visas approved by Congress, and additional haphazardly imposed travel restrictions have greatly reduced the scope of legal immigration.
Despite those restrictions, the number of legal immigrant visas issued abroad has partly recovered from a low of 697 (that’s not a typo) in May 2020 to 35,647 in November 2021 (Figure 1). That’s 16 percent below the average of 42,390 immigrant visas issued monthly from January 2017 through February 2020, during Trump’s presidency but prior to COVID-19. December 2021 and January 2022 will likely show lower numbers.
As bad as the numbers for immigrant visas are, the number of non‐immigrant visas issued abroad every month is even worse. Non‐immigrant visas are for students, temporary workers, tourists, and others who can temporarily travel to the United States or reside here for a specific time and purpose. Figure 2 shows that 40,939 were issued in May 2020, the low point of the series, down from a monthly average of 738,642 from January 2017 through February 2020 – a 95 percent decline. The numbers have since climbed to a paltry 391,022 in November 2021 – far shy of their pre‐pandemic numbers.
The Biden administration needs to rapidly reverse this situation, recover the lost visas through legislation, and go even further or the U.S. economy will suffer long run drags on its growth.