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Immigration Policy in the Post-Coronavirus World

While we might not be at the end of the coronavirus arc in this season of the The Trump Presidency, we are in a world whose history is already fundamentally altered by the pandemic. How we approach immigration in the short, medium and long term must change to reflect the new realities our communities, nation, and world finds itself.

In this discussion there are three important points to consider: getting Americans back to work, reducing future outbreaks of coronavirus, and limiting the damage of future pandemics.

The United States is seeing and will soon officially record unemployment levels the likes of which barely exist in living memory. Long established businesses will be forced to fold, even with generous loans from the Small Business Administration. The consumption patterns of Americans will change drastically. People will be hesitant to attend mass events like sports, movies, concerts, conferences, trade shows, and theatrical productions for months or years. Consumption may be simply reduced as families truly prepare for the possibility of months without a paycheck. This means, that even if coronavirus was neutralized tomorrow, things would not just spring back to the way they were. There will be friction as the unemployed are re-hired slowly or seek out new jobs. The jobs which are available in a few months might be substantially different from the jobs people have lost.

To ensure that every American who wants a job can get one as quickly as possible, an immigration moratorium must be put into place immediately, at least until the US returns to full employment and median wages rebound. Every type of visa that can lead to employment must be halted for the time being, and those which are up for renewal should be allowed to expire. This will ensure that job openings in America go to Americans first. As time goes on, businesses which “in-source” will have to open those jobs up to American workers once again. Industries used to cheap labor will have to offer Americans a better deal than the two-thirds salary which unemployment benefits offer if they want jobs done at all. Hiring American, or not at all, will necessarily change the status quo of many industries moving forwards; just like the status quo of all of our lives have changed so drastically. 1

While recovering from this outbreak is our primary objective today, policy-makers must also look towards the future. There’s worry that, like the Spanish flu, there could be a worse coronavirus outbreak this winter, with recurring outbreaks thereafter until the world’s population reaches herd immunity, i.e. the “worst case scenario” spread out over a few years instead of a few weeks. Keeping Americans out of perpetual lock-down is essential for combating future outbreaks effectively. One of the best ways we can limit outbreaks in the United States, and give us time to prepare when outbreaks start overseas is to limit travel from overseas to the US. Many countries require visas to be obtained in advance, and otherwise encumber the process of travel from abroad. Requiring advance visas makes cutting off foreign travel from a particular country or region easier because we already know who is planning on coming to the US from a particular region when travel bans or travel restrictions go into place. A traditional visa system for travellers enables us to implement temporary bans effectively on short notice.

Finally, there’s the question on limiting our risk in future pandemics. Border controls, whether at airports, seaports or land-based are essential to mitigating the threat of unknown foreign populations trafficking disease. Different countries have different sets of diseases. The extreme case from the Age of Discovery was apocalyptic levels of death from diseases. There are still pockets of the world with polio, and smallpox was eradicated only 40 years ago. Extensive travel between two previously isolated communities means that the low-level contagions which cause everyday illnesses will co-mingle and spread between the population. Controlled immigration prevents outbreaks from occurring. When people come from all over and spread themselves throughout the country, the diseases they bring with them don’t hold much risk. However, when a large population transplants itself from one place to another, they bring their germs with them. A well-controlled immigration system prevents the creation of local enclaves which increase the risk of outbreaks.

All of this boils down to a couple of common-sense policies. American jobs should go to exclusively to American citizens and residents while unemployment is at levels last seen during the Great Depression. Travel from abroad needs to be discouraged while the risk of coronavirus outbreaks are still high. Lastly, well-controlled borders are an essential part of a comprehensive public health strategy.


  1. While an immigration moratorium will help to quickly decrease frictional unemployment and reduce cyclical unemployment, structural unemployment still presents a problem. The jobs people are losing now are not necessarily the same types of jobs which will be available in the future. A key feature of solving this problem will be the establishment of alternative credentialing mechanisms which allow Americans to re-train and gain credentials for available jobs quickly and cheaply. ↩︎

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