Dramatic Drops in Legal Immigration to U.S. in FY 2020

Fiscal year 2020 ended on September 30, 2020, and while complete data is not yet available, an analysis of governmental data through August 31, 2020 shows that legal immigration to the U.S. fell by 92 percent in the second half of the fiscal year.

The Cato Institute analysis compares the rate of immigration to historical rates and finds that

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.

The drop is not a necessary byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic, although the administration has seized upon the pandemic to close the nation to entry of virtually all immigrants from abroad, and to most foreign workers (both actions leading to ongoing challenges in the federal courts), when less severe measures, such as requiring all new immigrants to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival could have sufficed.   The drop also springs from capping FY 2020 refugee resettlement at record lows and issuing regulations designed to slash immigration by immediate families of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, among other changes to the nation’s legal immigration framework that preceded the pandemic.

As the Cato Institute notes,

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.

The administration continues to introduce changes that will cut even skills-based immigration, such as new interim final rules announced on October 8, 2020.   The administration’s hostility to immigration should give us all pause.