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Data: U.S. State Department via Migration Policy Institute: Note: Including E1, E2, H-1B, H-4, L-1, L-2, O-1, O-2, O-3, TN and TD visas; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Coronavirus has slammed the door on highly skilled foreign workers — amping up President Trump's push to limit American-based companies' hiring of foreigners.

Why it matters: The restrictions and bottlenecks may outlast the pandemic, especially if Trump wins reelection. Economists warn that could slow the U.S. recovery and reduce competitiveness.

  • But critics of high-skilled worker programs say even more should be done to protect U.S. workers.

Temporary visas for those with "extraordinary" ability (O visas), specialty job skills (H-1B, H-4, L visas), or who are trade professionals or investors (E, TN, TD visas) fell from 61,000 in January to less than 500 in April as the pandemic set in and consulates closed, according to an analysis by Migration Policy Institute.

  • Trump then banned entry for most foreign workers outside the U.S., with proclamations in late April and June.
  • Under other Trump policies, denial rates for the popular high-skilled H-1B visas tripled compared to the end of the Obama administration at 29%, the National Foundation for American Policy found.
  • Temporary, high-skilled visas rose from April to around 2,200 in July — still a far cry from the nearly 61,000 issued last July.

What to watch: Last month the State Department announced broad exemptions to Trump's proclamation, which could allow employers to bring in more foreign workers.

  • Restrictions could force companies to move jobs offshore, TechCrunch reports.
  • Others businesses may simply wait longer or decide not to hire if they can't easily get the foreign talent they need.
  • "Most people view immigration as a zero-sum game. An immigrant comes in and an American loses, and that's not at all the way that economists view that issue," said Chad Sparber, an economics professor at Colgate University.

What they’re saying: "It's not so much just bringing the talent into the country," Jon Baselice, U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive director of immigration policy, told Axios. "It's having the talent come here to help start new operations."

The big picture: Between January and May, total temporary and permanent visas issued by the State Department, including for travelers and family members, fell 90%.

  • And officials predict significant drops in overall travel and immigrant visa applications for the next two years compared with 2018, per ProPublica's reporting.
  • "They have literally shut down legal immigration to United States," renowned immigration attorney Charles Kuck told Axios.

Go deeper

Jan 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden speaks to Mexican president about reversing Trump's "draconian immigration policies"

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

President Biden told his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, on a phone call Friday that he plans to reverse former President Trump’s “draconian immigration policies.”

The big picture: The Biden administration has already started repealing several of Trump’s immigration policies, including ordering a 100-day freeze on deporting many unauthorized immigrants, halting work on the southern border wall, and reversing plans to exclude undocumented people from being included in the 2020 census.

Updated 1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Tax season nightmare ahead for understaffed IRS

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The IRS will start accepting 2021 tax returns in less than a week, and the filing delays and administrative headaches to come might eclipse last year — which was “one of the worst filing seasons," according to an independent advocacy agency within the IRS.

Why it matters: For taxpayers, especially with complex or paper filings, this means headaches, delayed refunds, and mistakes.

China builds its own movie empire

Expand chart
Data: Gower Street citing Comscore; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

China blocked all four of Disney's Marvel movies from being released in its theaters last year, a grim sign for U.S. film giants being squeezed out of the world's fastest-growing box office.

Why it matters: The Chinese Communist Party is using domestic films as a key conduit for mass messaging aimed at achieving political goals, leaving little room for foreign views.