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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

America's labor shortage crisis has been exacerbated by immigration restrictions that have reduced the number of both skilled and unskilled workers.

Between the lines: Most of the labor scarcity blame has been aimed at expanded unemployment benefits, hard-to-find child care and low wages. But there is a fourth leg to the stool.

By the numbers: Immigrant and non-immigrant visas issued during the year ended October 2020 were down by nearly five million, or 54%, from 2019.

  • 572,587 fewer people received temporary or permanent worker visas (H, L, O, P, Q, J, and E) in 2020, a 44% drop from 1.3 million in 2019.
  • The most significant drop-offs were for J and Q visas, for work- and study-based programs like au pairs, camp counselors and cultural exchange. Those were down 68% and 63%, respectively.
  • H-visas for specialty work, temporary agricultural and non-agricultural work fell by the smallest percentage (24%).

For context: The U.S. had a 6% job opening rate in April, with the highest rates of 11.6% rate in arts, entertainment and recreation, 10.1% in leisure and hospitality, and a 9.9% rate in accommodation and food services — which combined works out to over 3.1 million unfilled jobs.

Timeline: Almost all of this decrease can be tied to Trump administration decisions to close legal immigration avenues in the pandemic's early months, while also tightening rules and enforcement of undocumented immigration.

  • Freezes were put on green card applications in April, and most temporary work visas were halted in June.
  • President Biden reversed the green card decision and recently let the worker visa ban lapse.
  • But it will take time for the immigrant worker pool to be refilled, particularly as potential immigrants from certain countries remain blocked due to COVID-related health concerns. Moreover, many U.S. embassies and consulates continue to face massive backlogs of visa applications, often without enough resources to resume regular operations.

What they're saying: E.J. Dean, the third-generation owner of New England carnival operator Fiesta Shows, says that he's had to limit the number of rides offered this season because he's been unable to secure his typical supply of temporary workers from overseas (particularly from South Africa).

  • "I'm trying to get people locally, but I've never seen things so tight," Dean explains. "It’s not even about the pay. People set up interviews and then they don't show up for them."
  • Jon Baselice, VP of immigration policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, adds: “COVID-related travel restrictions continue to prevent many employers from meeting their workforce needs and they are causing significant business disruptions for many companies, especially smaller seasonal businesses across the country that are dealing with acute workforce shortfalls.”

The bottom line: The U.S. economy cannot fully recover from the pandemic if employers can't find enough employees.

Go deeper

Workers' great awakening is about more than unemployment benefits

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Many politicians, pundits and business owners have said pandemic-era enhanced unemployment benefits are keeping would-be workers at home. But that's a much too simplistic explanation of today's employment situation.

The big picture: Many hard-hit sectors are rebounding faster than anecdotal evidence would suggest. And when jobs are hard to fill, a broader worker awakening over the past year is part of the reason.

Updated 42 mins ago - Sports

Katie Ledecky wins gold in first women's 1500m freestyle

Team USA's Katie Ledecky celebrates after winning the final of the women's 1,500m freestyle swimming event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo on Wednesday. Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images)

Katie Ledecky took home the Olympic gold medal in the women's 1,500-meter freestyle swimming race Tuesday evening, becoming the first female swimmer to win the newly added division. Team USA's Erica Sullivan won silver.

Of note: The Tokyo Games mark the first time that the long-distance race has been open to women, and Ledecky paid tribute to her predecessors after the race. "I just think of all the great U.S. swimmers who didn’t have a chance to swim that event," she said on NBC.

Updated 52 mins ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Katie Ledecky celebrates with teammate Erica Sullivan after winning the women’s 1500m freestyle final. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

🚨: Katie Ledecky wins gold in first women's 1500m freestyle

🤸🏾‍♀️: Simone Biles pulls out of gymnastics team finals, citing her mental health

🎾: "This one sucks more than the others," Naomi Osaka says on upset loss

⚽️: USA women's soccer ties Australia, propelling them to the quarterfinals

🏊‍♀️: Teen swimmer Lydia Jacoby wins first U.S. women's Tokyo Games gold

👟: World Athletics president supports reviewing marijuana rules in doping

🏄‍♀️: American Carissa Moore wins first-ever women's Olympic gold in surfing

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage - Medal tracker