Immigration to the U.S. Dropped an Insane 92%

 In FVEY, P5

The United States has wel­comed more than 85 million legal immi­grants to the United States since its found­ing. But at no time since it has main­tained records has the coun­try wit­nessed as fast a decline in legal immi­gra­tion as it has seen in the second half of fiscal year 2020 (which fin­ished September 30). Overall, the second half of FY 2020 saw 92 per­cent fewer immi­grants from abroad than the first half, which was larger than any annual decline in the his­to­ry of the United States. 

Figure 1 shows the month­ly immi­grant visa issuances under the Trump admin­is­tra­tion since March 2017. As it shows, legal immi­gra­tion almost wholly stopped in April and May 2020 — after the State Department closed its con­sulates and President Trump issued a procla­ma­tion sus­pend­ing new visa issuances to most immi­grant cat­e­gories. It has recov­ered slight­ly since then, but it remains 84 per­cent below last year (which was also a down year).

Figure 2 shows the number of new arrivals of legal per­ma­nent res­i­dents or immi­grant visas approved by year from 1820 to 2020, with the third and fourth quar­ter of FY 2020 added. The United States wit­nessed a more than 90 per­cent falloff in new immi­gra­tion from abroad during the second half of FY 2020. This brings the annu­al­ized legal immi­gra­tion rate from abroad to 0.03 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion. This is the lowest rate of immi­gra­tion except for three years during World War II and one year during the Great Depression.

The 92 per­cent drop in the second half of FY 2020 is larger than the drop during any single year in American his­to­ry — larger than the 73 per­cent decline in 1915 coin­cid­ing with the start of World War I, larger than the 70 per­cent decline in 1925 coin­cid­ing with Congress clos­ing legal immi­gra­tion from Europe, larger than the 63 per­cent declines in 1931, 1942, and 1918 fol­low­ing the onset of the Great Depression and U.S. entries into each world war. Table 1 shows the data for all avail­able years and the change for the second half of 2020 from the first half. While it’s only half a year, Figure 1 indi­cates how slow the immi­gra­tion recov­ery has been. It is unlike­ly that the 2021 will be much dif­fer­ent if President Trump is reelect­ed.

Before 1924, immi­grants were never required to receive immi­grant visas abroad to enter and become legal per­ma­nent res­i­dents, and from 1924 to 1952, nearly all immi­grants had to receive immi­grant visas abroad to become legal per­ma­nent res­i­dents. In recent years, about half of all new legal per­ma­nent res­i­dents have adjust­ed their status to per­ma­nent res­i­dence from tem­po­rary sta­tus­es, such the H‑1B visa, refugee status, or ille­gal status. Generally, the number of new “immi­grants” include both the number of new arrivals from abroad and those adjust­ing in the United States, but it’s also impor­tant to see who is enter­ing from abroad because that reflects real changes in the U.S. pop­u­la­tion. The number of work visas, of course, have also declined just as dramatically.

This his­toric slow­down is impor­tant for both the short-​term and long-​term eco­nom­ic growth of the United States. Fewer work­ers mean that jobs will take longer to fill and slow the eco­nom­ic recov­ery, and in coming years, fewer work­ers will sup­port more retirees. If the United States remains closed long enough, it could push world­wide pat­terns of immi­gra­tion away toward other coun­tries with more wel­com­ing poli­cies.

This arti­cle first appeared at the Cato Institute.

Image: Reuters.

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