How foreign work visas benefit the U.S. economy

Wharton’s Britta Glennon discusses what the reversal of the previous administration’s work visa ban means for the U.S. economy.

The Biden administration recently allowed a Trump-era ban on certain work visas to expire, opening the door for foreign workers to reenter the American labor pool after being locked out for nearly a year.

Closeup of foreign visa.

The controversial ban, which the previous administration said was necessary to protect public health and the economy during the coronavirus pandemic, included H-1B visas for highly skilled technical workers and H-2B visas for seasonal workers in the hospitality industry. Also banned were visas for the spouses of H-1B workers, visas for executives on company transfers, and visas for researchers, scholars, and those in other specialized jobs such as au pairs.

Wharton management professor Britta Glennon praises the current administration’s decision, saying it will have a positive net effect on the economy. Numerous studies, including several from Wharton researchers, show that immigrants boost economic activity through innovation, job creation, and consumption.

“I view this as a broadly positive move for the U.S. economy, and I think it will help our recovery process,” says Glennon. “A lot of firms really rely on these immigrants and have struggled to find the workforce that they need while this ban was in place.”

It’s difficult to analyze the impact that the ban had on companies because the data is not yet available. But Glennon says previous data, her own research, and anecdotal evidence suggest that high-tech firms will outsource or “offshore” work when they can’t find enough specialized employees to fill positions.

“That’s something we’ve seen in the past. I see no reason not to expect this to have been the case this most recent time, particularly in the age of ‘work from anywhere,’” she says.

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