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Analysis: Need for foreign workers hindered by COVID-19 rules, immigration policies

June 10 (UPI) -- The COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on U.S. industries that rely on highly skilled foreign workers, and continued travel restrictions and immigration policies may make it difficult for the U.S. economy to bounce back, a report released Thursday indicates.

The New American Economy Research Fund, a non-profit, bipartisan immigration research organization, said that an analysis of employment during the pandemic found that certain industries felt the strain of certain lockdown procedures more severely than others.

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"Unlike past recessions, the COVID-19 recession hit unevenly," the report said.

Envoy Global, a global immigration services provider, co-authored and commissioned the report.

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The highest unemployment numbers, for instance, were in food service, hotels and entertainment, where employees weren't considered "essential," nor were they able to work from home.

On the other hand, industries that rely more on foreign skilled labor, such as computer-related or other professional service jobs, were unable to meet employment demands, continuing to seek permission from the government to hire more people through the H-1B visa program.

"Their motivation to do so even during the worst of the pandemic is evidenced by unemployment data showing that the labor market at the top end of the skill spectrum remains extremely tight," the report said.

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Demand for computer-related, skilled workers is growing in some cases, with such jobs making up 69.6% of all foreign labor requests in fiscal year 2020, a slight increase from fiscal year 2019.

The unemployment rate for computer- and mathematics-related positions was 2.3% in 2019, up to 3% in 2020. It dropped to 1.9% in March 2021.

"If businesses cannot find enough workers to fill technical and specialized roles that are often critical to their continued growth and innovation, U.S. companies may be hamstrung in their capacity to expand and operate efficiently," a release accompanying the report said.

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Researchers said "more responsive employment-based immigration policies" could help the U.S. economy bounce back faster from the pandemic-related recession.

A year in pandemic: How COVID-19 changed the world

January 31, 2020
National Institutes of Health official Dr. Anthony Fauci (C) speaks about the coronavirus during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Alexander Azar (L) announced that the United States is declaring the virus a public health emergency and issued a federal quarantine order of 14 days for 195 Americans. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo

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