Jun 25, 2020 - Economy

No more crossing borders for work

Illustration of a passport with the world map crossed out on the front cover

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The movement of workers across borders shows no sign of recovery, especially coming into and leaving the U.S.

Why it matters: Multinational U.S. corporations are built on international travel. Apple spends $150 million a year on air travel, for instance, and pre-coronavirus was buying 50 business class seats per day just from San Francisco to Shanghai. That level of investment in cross-border ties helped to create a company that's now worth $1.6 trillion.

Driving the news: U.S. borders remain shut to travelers from China and Europe. Only eight flights per week shuttle between the U.S. and China; United Airlines' SFO-SHA route where Apple used to spend $35 million a year currently has no flights at all. The EU is almost certain to ban U.S. travelers when it reopens on July 1. And President Trump has banned thousands of nonimmigrant workers from entering the country this year.

By the numbers: Trump has prevented the issuance of about 29,000 H1-B visas, 23,000 H2-B visas, 72,000 J-1 visas. Even 6,000 L-1 visas, which allow executives at multinational companies to move from a foreign office to a U.S. location, have been curtailed. That's according to estimates from the Migration Policy Institute; the numbers cover only the period from July to December 2020.

  • Also affected: Some 37,000 individuals who would normally receive H-4, J-2, or L-2 dependent visas.
  • The racial angle: Most of the would-be immigrants who will now remain outside the U.S. are Mexican, Indian, and Chinese. Visas that normally go to wealthier and whiter foreigners, such as E-1, TN, O-1, or I visas, are unaffected.

My thought bubble: If multinational companies can't bring talent to work for them on U.S. soil, their move to remote work and foreign hubs will only accelerate. Zoom works just fine across international borders, and countries like Canada are jumping at this opportunity to attract global expertise.

The bottom line: The nascent economic recovery has been entirely domestic so far. For as long as Donald Trump remains president, it's likely to stay that way.

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