Temporary skilled workers and the shift from Trump to Biden  

One of the three themes of the Biden’s administration’s approach to immigration is to boost the immigrationg of skilled workers. I decribe here what’s been happening.

Temporary use of skilled workers from overseas is a controversial topic, given as depending on the design and application of the temporary visa program, domestic workers can be thrown out of work to be replaced by foreign workers.  But the U.S. has a history going back to the 1950s of bringing in skilled workers on a temporary basis. My 2013 posting describes some of the history.

On balance, having a temporary system in place should enable employers to acquire skilled help to meet changing demand for certain skills, without having to rely only on permanent visas.  The H-1B program is the primary vehicle for employers to find these workers.

Congress sets annual caps to both temporary (85,000) and permanent employement-based (140,000) immigration.  Altering these caps is, of course, extremely arduous, witnessed by the struggle of Democrats to change other aspects of immigration law in this Congressional session. But the Executive Branch has a lot of descretion.  How these two channels behave and interact is explained in simple terms here.

The Trump administration conducted an assault on the importation of skilled workers under the H-1B program. The details of its tactics, and of court decisions in 2020 which stopped some aspects of the assault, are complex, and can be perused here.

The long story of how Trump attempted to crush the temporary skilled worker program is told by Forbes Magazine’s Stuart Anderson, whose columns are source of some of the content in this posting.

As Anderson observes, H-1B visas are important because they generally represent the only practical way for high-skilled foreign nationals, including international students, to work long-term in the United States and have the chance to become employment-based immigrants and U.S. citizens.

Anderson is exaggerating here. There are, noted above, channels of employment based applications for Green Cards – the EB series, summarized here.  The Biden comprehensive immigration reform bill would keep family green cards flat but employment-related green cards by 285%. Some summary statistics trace the assault and aftermath. H-1B visa applications need to meet criteria set largely by executive action rather than by Congress. Before Trump application denial rates were in the single digits. Under Trump, due to its revising the criteria, they soared to over 20%. After court decisions, then dropped down in FY 2011 to 4%.

The denial rate for new H-1B petitions for initial employment in FY 2021 dropped to 4%, far lower than the denial rate of 24% in FY 2018, 21% in FY 2019 and 13% in FY 2020,

According to Anderson, employers and high-skilled foreign nationals still have many problems. In March 2021, employers filed over 300,000 H-1B registrations for only 85,000 petitions available under the FY 2022 H-1B cap. That means the U.S. government rejected more than 70% of H-1B registrations for high-skilled foreign nationals before an adjudicator evaluated the applications.

Median annual compensation for all approved H-1B beneficiaries in FY 2020 was $101,000, according to USCIS data, and 64% possess a master’s degree or higher. (Go here).


Biden’s immigration actions: three themes

Pew Research has published a comprehensive summary of the Biden administrations actions on immigration. Three themes stand out.

  1. The Trump administration took some 1,000 executive actions many of which Biden has been reversing.
  2. Desire to increase employment based immigration. One of the initiatives is the filing of a comprehensive reform bill.  Green card volume would go up to around 1.5 million, compared to one million pre-Trump and about 500,000 at the current rate.  Biden’s bill has gone nowhere. But during 2021 the administration sought to reverse Trump’s efforts to curtail economic immigration (which in part was forestalled by courts) and in January 2022 opened up more opportunities for foreign students and temporary visa holders to stay in the U.S. and work.
  3. Retain the highly controversial Trump Mexican border policies. For a depiction of Biden’s handling of Stay in Mexico policy, I posted here. For Biden’s Title 42 expulsion policy, I posted here.

For 85 year olds, race/ethnic demographics is like the U.S. 40 years ago

81% of persons 85 or older in 2016 were white, compared to whites being 61% of the total population. The last time the total population was 80% white was in 1980. For white 85 year olds, their concept of American demographics may be 40 years out of date. (Also here.)


Pew Research says that for white Americans, the most common age was 58, but 11 for Hispanics, 27 for Blacks and 29 for Asians. Among all racial and ethnic minorities, the most common age was 27.

One reason non-Hispanic whites are disproportionately older than other Americans is that they were the biggest population gainers from the post-World War II baby boom – an era before many of today’s minority immigrants entered the country. Data from 2018 here.

The median ages in 2019 were whites, 44; Hispanics, 29; Blacks, 34; and Asians, 37. States with the highest median ages are Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont which are among the very few states with whites accounting for well over 90% of the state’s population.

From here and here.

Non English spoken at home

One fifth of households in the U.S. speak a language other than or besides English at home. This rate has doubled since 1980. (these and other figures from 2018 Census surveys).

The rate in Los Angeles is 59%; East Los Angeles 88;Passaic, N.J. 78%; Providence, R.I. 50%; Germantown, Md. 46%; West Valley City, Utah 39%; Springdale, AR. 35%; and Troy, MI 34%

Languages with more than a million people who speak it at home in 2018 were Spanish (41.5 million), Chinese (3.5 million), Tagalog (1.8 million), Vietnamese (1.5 million), Arabic (1.3 million), French (1.2 million), and Korean (1.1 million). There are now more people who speak Spanish at home in the United States than in any country in Latin America with the exception of Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina.

Sources: here and here

Internal migration in China was fundamental to its success

From Brad DeLong, economic historian at U.C. / Berkeley, who places the internal migration within the context of the past 60 years (from his substack blog):

For 40 years now, I have been a short-run China bull and a long run China bear. It has seemed clear to me, at every point in time. It is, of course, very clear and obvious that at each stage in the past I have been wrong.
China has, since 1980, at every point in time… been able to successfully rejigger its development model at each stage to continue economic progress. I think Barry Naughton’s periodization of post-Mao China is the most useful way of thinking about the stages of this process:
1. Agricultural de-communization
2. Labor-intensive manufactures in the Chinese countryside via [Town and Village Enterprises]
3. China’s cityscapes via retail decontrol
4. The drastic and painful 1996 to 2002 shrinkage of [state owned enterprises] work force by more than 40 percent— the flip side was that alternate businesses and ownership forms had reached sufficient scale to absorb the workers, land, and structures
5. Greatest of all: 200 million migrants flooded into the urban economy
6. The decision in 1998 to privatize urban housing
7. Finally, the decision to enter the WTO—the China-export shock

From here: The census in 2000 found that there were more than 120 million migrant workers in Chinese cities. More-recent estimates go as high as 200 million. This massive internal migration has appeared especially dramatic from a Chinese perspective because mobility was severely restricted in Maoist times, making it almost impossible for rural people to leave their villages.

The pull factors for rural migrants were to be found in the growing prosperity of the coastal zone, where China’s extraordinarily rapid economic growth has been concentrated. Some migrants went to established cities, where they worked as petty traders or in the service sector, as well as in manufacturing and the construction industry. Others were drawn to the new urban areas of the coastal zone, such as Shenzhen, where booming export industries created an ever-increasing demand for assembly-line labor.

Also from here: In 2009, there were 145 million rural-urban migrants in China, accounting for about 11 percent of the total population. Among them, an estimated 85 million to 100 million were born after 1980 — a period when three distinct government policies converged to shape the circumstances for increased rural-to-urban migration within China.

After its introduction in 1979, the controversial One Child Policy, which promoted late marriage and delayed child bearing and limited the number of children born in rural families to 1.5 (two for a first-born girl, otherwise one), was firmly implemented and shifted the vast rural China household structure — and thus, agricultural workforce — dramatically to fewer children.

Then in the mid-1980s, the Hukou System — a residence registration system devised in the 1950s to record and control internal migration and which ultimately hindered rural-to-urban movements — began to loosen in response to the demands of both the market and rural residents wishing to seek greater economic opportunity in cities.

Where are 11 million unauthorized persons living

In 1990, the distribution of foreign born in the U.S. was very roughly the same as in 1920: mainly California, the Northeast, and old industrial cities in the Midwest. Since then, immigrant populations spread out. States with the largest percentage increase in those speaking a foreign language at home from 1980 to 2018 are Nevada (up 1,088%), Georgia (952%), North Carolina ( 802%), Virginia (488%), Tennessee (459%), Arkansas (445%), Washington (up 432%), South Carolina (398%), Florida (393%), Utah (383%), and Oregon (380%).

A few states account for the great majority of non-English-at-home speakers. The states with the largest share of their populations speaking a foreign language at home in 2018 were California (45%), Texas (36%), New Mexico (34%), New Jersey (32%), New York and Nevada (each 31%), Florida (30%), Arizona and Hawaii (each 28%), and Massachusetts (24%).

From here. Graph data from here.

New York City’s new voter law for non-citizens

In December 2021, New York City authorized non-citizens to vote in municipal elections. This is by far the largest enfranchisement of non-citizens in the United States. (For an inventory of these laws, go here.) on January 10, a suit was filed saying the law violated New York State’s constitution.

In one fell swoop, the legally eligible voters in municipal elections rose from about 5.8 million by about 800,000, or 14%. Additionally, if unauthorized residents are considered, the rolls increase by an additional 7%. (These estimates I developed myself.) Roughly one fifth of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s adult population is newly enfranchised.

This chart shows the size of several segments (in millions) of the foreign born population of the City.

(Here is data on the City’s population. Here is a breakdown of non-citizens by borough. Here is another analysis of the immigrant population of the city.)

The pie chart shows how the law affects the distribution of eligible voters.

Legally, anyone with a Green Card or a work visa who has resided in the City for at least 6 months is eligible (until the very end, the drafts called for just 3 months). (Here is the law in full. Here is the best analysis of the law.)

The law not only does not include any steps to verify legal status of persons registering as a voters, but also expressly bars the City from asking this information: “No inquiries shall be made as to the immigration status of potential municipal voter or municipal voter, other than to ascertain whether he or she qualifies to vote under this chapter. If such information is volunteered to any city employee, it will not be recorded or shared with any other federal, state, or local agency, except as otherwise required by law.”

The law requires the person to sign and affidavit saying “I meet all of the requirements to register to vote in New York State except for United States citizenship.” Misrepresentation penalties are relatively minor compared to what I would expect for voter fraud: a $500 penalty and up to a year in jail.

If U.S. pop trends were that of Japan…

Comparing population trending since 2009, if the decline in population in Japan were matched in the U.S. we would have a January 1, 2022 population 8% lower (or 304 million) than what we actually have — 332 million. If immigration had not stalled in the past few years, we might have 334- 335 million today.

Key driver of increased world migration: costs have declined

International migration has more than tripled in size since 1960, rising from 77 million to almost 281 million by 2020. The costs of doing so declined:

First, the costs of movement. Air flights have reduced the cost, delays and uncertainties of travel. As more persons in developing countries gain more income, air travel is more affordable.

Second, the costs of settlement. As immigrant communities in destination countries increase in size, the ability of would-be and arriving migrants to to find housing, get jobs and fit in grows. This applies perhaps most to unauthorized migration – how to avoid deportation. But it also applies to legal immigration when channels such as refugee migration broaden. The Trump administration wants to stop the catch-and-release practices when people cross the Mexican border and then meet up with earlier migrants. This most recently has enabled unaccompanied minors to cross the southern border.

Third, the costs of keeping in touch with the host country. The most obvious improvement is in phone calls. It also includes air travel. Many immigrants today return for temporary visits. And consider remittances. Immigrant households in developed can probably better afford to share incomes in ways that can be used meaningfully in the country of origin. Methods of sending remittances have improved over the decades, and still are. African taxi drivers in Washington DC tell me they routinely back for stretches — their nuclear families live there.

Trump’s policy was essentially the increase the cost of migrating to the U.S. Just one example: it became much harder for spouses of H-1B workers to legally work.

Much of this is spelled out in Paul Collier, Exodus: How Migration is Changing our World.

Four questions about non-English speakers in the U.S.

Learning English — and becoming proficient in it — can be a game-changer for immigrant families. Parents and youth who can converse in English are better equipped to access health care, secure employment and engage with their community. (Go here).

ONE How many people speak other than English at home? Ans: 50 million, or about 16% of the population

According to Pew Research, in 2011, 37.6 million persons ages 5 years and older speak Spanish at home. The next most spoken non-English languages are Chinese (with 2.8 million speakers), Hindi, Urdu or other Indic languages (2.2 million), French or French Creole (2.1 million), Tagalog (1.7 million), and Vietnamese (1.4 million). Adding other languages, the total is probably around 50 million.

Since there were in 2011 about 42 million foreign born-persons, this means that 8 million then were born in the U.S. who speak other than English at home. A good number of these are likely U.S. born children of immigrants.

TWO What share of the Hispanic speak Spanish at home? Ans: about 70%

There were 56.5 million Hispanics in the United States in 2015, accounting for 17.6% of the total U.S. population. In 1980, with a population of 14.8 million, Hispanics made up just 6.5% of the total U.S. population. This implies that about 70% of speak Spanish at home.

In 1980, 10 million persons spoke English at home. In 2000, 25 million spoke Spanish at home.

THREE Are more Hispanics speaking English? Ans: yes.

This is due to demographic changes with more U.S. born Hispanics vs. recent immigrants. In 2012. 59% of Hispanic adults speak English proficiently, up from 54% in 2006 and 2000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

In 2014, When asked about their language use and English proficiency in 2014, some 88% of Hispanics ages 5 to 17 said they either speak only English at home or speak English “very well,” up from 73% who said the same in 2000.

Fully 89% of U.S.-born Hispanics spoke English proficiently in 2013, up from 72% in 1980. That means, of course, the 11% of U.S. born Latinos did not speak English proficiently in 2013.

FOUR How many children of immigrants live in linguistically isolated homes? Ans: about 4 million or about 21% of children of immigrants.

Linguistically isolated households have zero individuals age 14 or older who speak only English or who speak English very well.

Fourteen percent of all kids in immigrant families have a hard time speaking English, 21% live in linguistically isolated households, and 54% live with parents who have difficulty speaking English.

Nationally, the rate of linguistic isolation among children in immigrant families has dropped—from 26% in 2008 to 21% in 2015.