How Did The Pandemic Affect Immigrants In The USA?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused trying times for people all over the world. This is a different age, one that no one was prepared for—though governments should’ve been. The last outbreak before COVID was just eleven years prior in 2009 with H1N1, and even though, the number of deaths for the H1N1 pandemic was much lower than COVID, it should have taught the world leaders a lesson.

The impact of COVID on a global scale cannot be understated, and perhaps no one has been hit harder than immigrants in the United States and all over the world.

In February 2020, the Trump administration began rolling out travel restrictions in response to the virus. While the notion behind these measures was “essential”—attempting to curb the spread of the virus was crucial—the execution and what these measures turned into was for many, if not all, inappropriate.

During a pandemic, traveling to a country with a high level of COVID-19 is a major risk, but it seemed as though an unnecessary overarching theme to these travel restrictions was to prevent immigration to the US altogether. A country, especially a free country, is built on freedom, and the ability of its people to come and go and they please.

A stressful and anxiety-ridden time like a pandemic is not the ideal time to be separated from your family. It’s even less ideal when people are prevented from seeing family. Humans are social creatures by nature, and we all need love and support.

Too many people know the difficulties of long-distance relationships, both romantic and not. Being separated from your family is hard.  Being told you are legally not allowed to go visit them is even harder.

On March 20, 2020, the Department of State suspended routine visa services at all consulates and embassies over the world. This also included the cancelation of all immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments.

What did that mean? Employment and family-based immigration visas were suspended full-stop. This went above and beyond just people wanting to immigrate legally to the United States. It also applied to lawful permanent residents (LPRs), relatives of U.S. citizens, and all applicants for skilled workers, nonimmigrant visas for visitors, and students.

H-2 visas were still processed. Those cover temporary agricultural workers and emergency visa issues. These bans were in full effect until mid-July.

To put it in the clearest terms: the United States stopped allowing almost everyone that wasn’t already a legal citizen or resident, from entering the country.

As I said before, travel restrictions were the proper path, but the travel bans quickly escalated into something else. Immigration is not an easy path to take. Uprooting one’s entire life, and their family, to start over again in a foreign world where everything is new and different takes courage and determination.

There’s a reason why an overwhelming number of immigrants work multiple jobs, long hours, holidays, weekends, and essentially any other time that others do not generally want to work. They know the struggle they went through. They know what it took to start a new life, to give their children and their spouse a better life.

Imagine doing all that, then being told you’re not good enough to be here. Unfortunately, that is the reality for many immigrants. The number of jobs that immigrants hold is a staggering statistic. The truth that immigration is essential to the US economy and the success of the workforce is glaring and obvious.

Equally as striking and stressful as the travel bans were the multiple closures and lockdowns. The virus was spreading at a rapid rate. The government and businesses had to react. Lockdowns were “necessary”, but that doesn’t make them any easier to experience.

When lockdowns are imposed, businesses close. Curfews come into effect. People lose jobs, people lose lives. It is effectively a self-imposed economic depression. It’s already difficult for immigrants to find jobs in many fields, and when many jobs are cut at once, that issue becomes even greater.Essential workers are the only job force kept in operation, and an immigrant is more likely to be let go than a non-immigrant when essential jobs face strains. Of course, legally that isn’t the position of any company, but a glance at statistics will tell otherwise.

This leads many workers to have to file for unemployment. The unemployment compensation in the U.S. is notoriously inefficient. Some states grant a maximum of only $275 a week. There isn’t a state in the U.S. where a person can adequately support themselves with $1100 a month, much less support a family.

When one is forced from their job, when one experiences difficulties, they look to turn to their support system. Imagine you live in another country, working as hard as you can to save money to bring your family to a better life. Imagine your support system being in another country, and now you can’t see them in a time of need.

Not everyone could rely on unemployment during the pandemic, and many were forced to look for other jobs after their positions were cut due to lockdowns or company layoffs. Finding work for an immigrant can already be a difficult task.

Finding work during a pandemic makes that task even trickier. The number of companies that are hiring is limited, and the positions being hired for are limited. Essential jobs were often grocery story, customer service, and agricultural jobs. Not everyone has experience in these areas, and not every immigrant is fluent enough in English to work in customer service.

These factors limit the jobs that immigrants can apply for, and during a time when so many jobs have been lost and so many people are now applying for the limited jobs that are hiring, immigrants can experience a more difficult job search.

There is no way around the glaring fact that the policies put into place during the pandemic made not only immigration nearly impossible, but those policies also made the lives of immigrants living in the U.S. more difficult than necessary.

Okay, so…. what is left?

As we are seeing the government finally stepping in and lifting the COVID-19 restrictions across the country – at least the lockdowns – we must be creative, ready to get back to work and do what we can to support and empower each other within our community.