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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

America's cities are facing a historic shortage of two vital resources: money and immigrants.

Why it matters: Cities drive American economic growth, and immigrants drive cities. The coronavirus pandemic has effectively stanched the main source of talent that municipal economies have long relied upon.

The big picture: As Axios' Stef Kight reports, COVID-19 has slammed the door on highly skilled foreign workers — and the restrictions and bottlenecks may outlast the pandemic, especially if President Trump wins reelection. Economists warn that could slow the U.S. recovery and reduce competitiveness.

  • By the numbers: The U.S. issued more than 61,000 skilled visas in January. That number fell to just 494 in April and remained very low through July. Don't expect the numbers to pick up meaningfully anytime soon.
  • New York alone has some 3.1 million immigrants, who fill 45% of the city's jobs, according to the Mayor's Office for Immigrant Affairs. But that population was declining even pre-pandemic. Tougher immigration restrictions caused a decline of 75,000 immigrant residents in 2018.
  • Immigrants contribute $232 billion to New York City's GDP and own more than half of its businesses.

Context: As I wrote today for Axios Cities, New York's recovery from the current crisis is going to be based on an influx of not-wealthy creatives and young professionals replacing the older, richer, more established people moving out.

  • If the newcomers require less space per person than the people leaving, then so long as landlords don't leave apartments empty, the population will rise and the city will rebound.
  • The catch: Historically, newcomers to New York and other cities have come from abroad. With intra-American migration slowing, it's not clear where else the reinforcements will come from.
Data: U.S. Census Bureau via New York City Department of City Planning; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New York's boom years, at the beginning of two successive centuries, coincided with its peak levels of immigration. Today, about 60% of New Yorkers live in a household with at least one immigrant.

  • New York's 1970s nadir occurred when immigration to the city was at all-time lows.

The bottom line: I reviewed Matthew Yglesias' new book, "One Billion Americans," last week. While its titular goal is utterly unrealistic, it's also directionally correct.

  • The U.S. needs a lot of immigration if it's to achieve its potential and thrive in the coming century. At the moment, thanks to the pandemic, the prospects for such immigration have never been grimmer.

Go deeper

Updated Dec 18, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: Immigration policy under the new administration

On Friday, December 18 Axios's Stef Kight hosted a conversation on immigration policy in the new administration, unpacking bipartisan initiatives and their wide-reaching impacts on immigrants and refugees, featuring former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and League of United Latin American Citizens CEO Sindy Benavides.

Sindy Benavides discussed the pandemic's unique impact on the Latino community and her view of immigration policy priorities going into the next presidential administration.

  • On the action she hopes President-elect Biden takes around immigration policy: "Reinstate DACA and make sure to rescind the [Department of Homeland Security] memo that stripped that protections away from immigrant eligible recipients, and make sure that we redesignate and expand temporary protected status."
  • On the lack of trust between the U.S. and the immigrant community: "The truth is that there is an erosion of trust that has occurred within the immigrant community under this administration. So many immigrants — many who are mixed-status families with U.S. citizen children and U.S. citizen spouses who have served in our military — are not accessing services because they're so fearful of repercussions from this government."

Michael Chertoff unpacked U.S. immigration policy in the past four years, drawing from his own experiences as Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush.

  • On the legacy of the Trump administration on the American immigration system: "The inhumanity with respect to the separated children will probably leave a lasting scar...I think it's also created a sense of ill will and lack of trust between a lot of the general public and [the U.S. Customs and Border Protection] and ICE."
  • On his advice to the Biden administration: "It's very important for the incoming administration to reach out and have good relations with our neighbors...Maybe the most important medium to long-term objective is to reduce the pressure that is bringing people to run and put their lives at risk to flee up North."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with USAFacts Steve Ballmer and discussed the importance of H-1B visas to the technology industry.

  • "When I was running Microsoft, we depended fundamentally not just on native-born engineers, but on foreign-born engineers...[H-1B visas] are a really big deal for keeping our tech economy vibrant, unless people want to see more of those tech and engineering jobs in other countries."

Thank you USAFacts for sponsoring this event.

NYC schools will change admission requirements to address segregation

Bill De Blasio. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

New York City will change admission requirements in middle and high schools to address segregation issues which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Bill De Blasio announced on Friday.

Why it matters: New York has one of the most segregated school systems, with students of color — particularly Black and Latino — underrepresented in selective schools.

Dems race to address, preempt stimulus fraud claims

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Biden officials are working to root out the systematic fraud in unemployment and Paycheck Protection Program claims that plagued the Trump administration’s efforts to boost the economy with coronavirus relief money, Gene Sperling told House committee chairmen privately this week.

Why it matters: President Biden just signed another $1.9 trillion of aid into law, with Sperling tapped to oversee its implementation. And the administration is asking Congress to approve another $2.2 trillion for the first phase of an infrastructure package.