Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. walk along the Rio Bravo river
Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. walk along the Rio Bravo river, the border between Mexico and the U.S., as seen from El Paso, Texas. Photo by: Reuters/Carlos Barria

An ongoing narrative about migrants displacing American or U.S.-born residents in the workforce may be about to change, as a recent study found that even with a drop in immigration during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S.-born employees didn't fill in the jobs that the decline in migrants left open.

In the study published in the Journal of Population Economics at the University of California, Davis, analysts found that the drop in immigrants corresponded to a decline in employment in specific occupations such as retail, social assistance, accommodation and food services, and non-durable goods manufacturing.

"The question is, 'Did Americans move into those sectors and into those states that experienced the biggest drop in immigrants? And the answer is, 'no,'" said Giovanni Peri, a professor of economics and director of the UC Davis Global Migration Center, and co-author of the study, as per The Daily Democrat.

While immigration numbers were already going through a slowdown due to the Trump administration's migration policies, the drastic decline in migrants entering the U.S. was further emphasized after 2019, specifically among Mexican migrants.

The net growth of working-age non-U.S.-born individuals saw a 1.65 million population gap between May 2019 and June 2022, the researchers found. During the said period, the accommodation and food services sector experienced a 30% drop in employment as migration declined.

Due to the employment decline, Peri and his co-author, Reem Zaiour, researched whether Americans would fill open jobs that were usually taken up by migrants. "Jobs were out there, but they were not filled," Peri said.

He said the results of the study could help change prejudiced views on immigration. "Changing the attitude toward immigration starts with changing our understanding and our knowledge of the facts," he said.

Experts from the U.S. think tank Brookings previously suggested that immigrants aren't "stealing" as many U.S. jobs as the Trump administration stated. "Undocumented workers often work the unpleasant, back-breaking jobs that native-born workers are not willing to do," Brookings senior fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote in a 2017 essay, "The Wall."

She said immigration issues won't be solved by mass deportations, but by creating a "legal" visa system that will be dedicated to jobs that U.S.-born residents don't want.

A Pew Research survey conducted in 2020 found that 77% of Americans believe undocumented immigrants mostly fill jobs "U.S. citizens do not want."

Researchers at the Center for American Progress further wrote in July 2022 that many immigrants, specifically Hispanic and Latino workers, were concentrated in low-wage occupations. "Hispanic and Latino workers experience persistent and pervasive ethnic wage gaps compared with white, non-Hispanic men," they said.

For Peri, the latest study provides more insight into how declining immigration can affect the U.S. labor market and underlines the United States' need for immigrants.

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