The Skilled Labor Shortage: Where Did Everybody Go?

As SHRM’s HR Knowledge Advisors, we know there is a massive skilled labor shortage not only in the U.S. but also worldwide. Employers are desperate to fill jobs—paying higher wages, offering more benefits, providing added flexibility, and so on. But where did everyone go? How can so many people afford to just quit, or to go from their high-income-earning jobs to something lower-paying, albeit less stressful? All of this while houses and materials, in general, are in short supply and inflation abounds.

Sure, some workers had savings that have allowed them to temporarily quit working, while others have made career changes, downsized, gone back to school, and more. However, a massive contributor to this situation is immigration. There has been a sweeping effect on the immigration of skilled labor. According to the CATO Institute, the U.S. government has issued about 1.2 million fewer visas to adult immigrants, refugees, and temporary foreign workers abroad from when consulates closed in March 2020 through July 2021, compared to the amount issued before the pandemic. There are workers who still cannot travel to the U.S. due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions or bans.

Visa delays are an obvious consequence of these factors. And we receive numerous questions from HR professionals about employees on temporary work visas that have expired, eventually preventing employers from continuing to legally employ their staff members. Knowing this issue, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has granted some extensions of expired work visas, but the longer-term question becomes, how long will it take to get the estimated 2 million workers back into the U.S. labor force? And assuming this does happen, how does it affect the benefits and higher wages that workers have been able to negotiate from their employers in the meantime?

If you want to know more about why and how workers are currently quitting, visas, or any other HR questions, we’d love to help! Give us a call or send an e-mail. We’re also available by chat. It’s one of the most valued benefits of SHRM membership!


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