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GONZALES, Calif. — It looks like a century-old picture of farming in California: a few dozen Mexican men on their knees, plucking radishes from the ground, tying them into bundles. But the crews on Sabor Farms’ radish patch, about a mile south of the Salinas River, represent the cutting edge of change, a revolution in how America pulls food from the land.
For starters, the young men on their knees are working alongside technology unseen even 10 years ago. Crouched behind what looks like a tractor retrofitted with a packing plant, they place bunches of radishes on a conveyor belt within arm’s reach, which carries them through a cold wash and delivers them to be packed into crates and delivered for distribution in a refrigerated truck.
The other change is more subtle, but no less revolutionary. None of the workers are in the United States illegally.
are not coming in the numbers they once did.
There are a variety of reasons: The aging of Mexico’s population slimmed the cohort of potential migrants. Mexico’s relative stability after the financial crises of the 1980s and 1990s reduced the pressures for them to leave, while the collapse of the housing bubble in the United States slashed demand for their work north of the border. Stricter border enforcement by the United States, notably during the Trump administration, has further dented the flow.
the economists Gordon Hanson and Craig McIntosh wrote.
As a consequence, the total population of unauthorized immigrants in the United States peaked in 2007 and has declined slightly since then. California felt it first. From 2010 to 2018, the unauthorized immigrant population in the state declined by some 10 percent, to 2.6 million. And the dwindling flow sharply reduced the supply of young workers to till fields and harvest crops on the cheap.
The state reports that from 2010 to 2020, the average number of workers on California farms declined to 150,000 from 170,000. The number of undocumented immigrant workers declined even faster. The Labor Department’s most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey reports that in 2017 and 2018, unauthorized immigrants accounted for only 36 percent of crop workers hired by California farms. That was down from 66 percent, according to the surveys performed 10 years earlier.
The immigrant work force has also aged. In 2017 and 2018, the average crop worker hired locally on a California farm was 43, according to the survey, eight years older than in the surveys performed from 2007 to 2009. The share of workers under the age of 25 dropped to 7 percent from a quarter.
hire the younger immigrants who kept on coming illegally across the border. (Employers must demand documents proving workers’ eligibility to work, but these are fairly easy to fake.)
That is no longer the case. There are some 35,000 workers on H-2A visas across California, 14 times as many as in 2007. During the harvest they crowd the low-end motels dotting California’s farm towns. A 1,200-bed housing facility exclusive to H-2A workers just opened in Salinas. In King City, some 50 miles south, a former tomato processing shed was retrofitted to house them.
“In the United States we have an aging and settled illegal work force,” said Philip Martin, an expert on farm labor and migration at the University of California, Davis. “The fresh blood are the H-2As.”
Immigrant guest workers are unlikely to fill the labor hole on America’s farms, though. For starters, they are costlier than the largely unauthorized workers they are replacing. The adverse effect wage rate in California this year is $17.51, well above the $15 minimum wage that farmers must pay workers hired locally.
So farmers are also looking elsewhere. “We are living on borrowed time,” saidDave Puglia, president and chief executive of Western Growers, the lobby group for farmers in the West. “I want half the produce harvest mechanized in 10 years. There’s no other solution.”
Produce that is hardy or doesn’t need to look pretty is largely harvested mechanically already, from processed tomatoes and wine grapes to mixed salad greens and tree nuts. Sabor Farms has been using machines to harvest salad mix for decades.
survey by the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology found that about two-thirds of growers of specialty crops like fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts have invested in automation over the last three years. Still, they expect that only about 20 percent of the lettuce, apple and broccoli harvest — and none of the strawberry harvest — will be automated by 2025.
Some crops are unlikely to survive. Acreage devoted to crops like bell peppers, broccoli and fresh tomatoes is declining. And foreign suppliers are picking up much of the slack. Fresh and frozen fruit and vegetable imports almost doubled over the last five years, to $31 billion in 2021.
Consider asparagus, a particularly labor-intensive crop. Only 4,000 acres of it were harvested across the state in 2020, down from 37,000 two decades earlier. The state minimum wage of $15, added to the new requirement to pay overtime after 40 hours a week, is squeezing it further after growers in the Mexican state of Sinaloa — where workers make some $330 a month — increased the asparagus acreage almost threefold over 15 years, to 47,000 acres in 2020.
H-2A workers won’t help fend off the cheaper Mexican asparagus. They are even more expensive than local workers, about half of whom are immigrants from earlier waves that gained legal status; about a third are undocumented. And capital is not rushing in to automate the crop.
“There are no unicorns there,” said Neill Callis, who manages the asparagus packing shed at the Turlock Fruit Company, which grows some 300 acres of asparagus in the San Joaquin Valley east of Salinas. “You can’t seduce a V.C. with the opportunity to solve a $2-per-carton problem for 50 million cartons,” he said.
While Turlock has automated where it can, introducing a German machine to sort, trim and bunch spears in the packing shed, the harvest is still done by hand — hunched workers walk up the rows stabbing at the spears with an 18-inch-long knife.
These days, Mr. Callis said, Turlock is hanging on to the asparagus crop mainly to ensure its labor supply. Providing jobs during the asparagus harvest from February to May helps the farm hang on to its regular workers — 240 in the field and about 180 in the shed it co-owns with another farm — for the critical summer harvest of 3,500 acres of melons.
Losing its source of cheap illegal immigrant workers will change California. Other employers heavily reliant on cheap labor — like builders, landscapers, restaurants and hotels — will have to adjust.
Paradoxically, the changes raking across California’s fields seem to threaten the undocumented local work force farmers once relied on. Ancelmo Zamudio from Chilapa, in Mexico’s state of Guerrero, and José Luis Hernández from Ejutla in Oaxaca crossed into the United States when they were barely in their teens, over 15 years ago. Now they live in Stockton, working mostly on the vineyards in Lodi and Napa.
They were building a life in the United States. They brought their wives with them; had children; hoped that they might be able to legalize their status somehow, perhaps through another shot at immigration reform like the one of 1986.
Things to them look decidedly cloudier. “We used to prune the leaves on the vine with our hands, but they brought in the robots last year,” Mr. Zamudio complained. “They said it was because there were no people.”
Mr. Hernández grumbles about H-2A workers, who earn more even if they have less experience, and don’t have to pay rent or support a family. He worries about rising rents — pushed higher by new arrivals from the Bay Area. The rule compelling farmers to pay overtime after 40 hours of work per week is costing him money, he complains, because farmers slashed overtime and cut his workweek from six days to five.
He worries about the future. “It scares me that they are coming with H-2As and also with robots,” he said. “That’s going to take us down.”
The problem is not just Britain’s stricter immigration rules. Other workers, in Britain and elsewhere, have left the hospitality industry looking for more stable employment, said Kate Shoesmith, the deputy chief executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, which represents recruitment companies and agencies.
Daily Business Briefing
Restaurant and hotel workers, who can’t work from home, have been scarred by unexpected changes in lockdown rules that have pulled them in and out of work at short notice. Despite the success of Britain’s vaccination program, the delta coronavirus variant is threatening to delay the full lifting of social distancing restrictions in England later this month.
Some people “are not confident there won’t be another lockdown,” Ms. Shoesmith said.
Many workers have moved on to less strenuous jobs that don’t require such late nights and long shifts, such as in call centers or in retail or other customer service roles. Adecco, a large recruitment agency, sent out a request to tens of thousands of job seekers to gauge their interest in working in hospitality. Just 1 percent responded.
Ms. Shoesmith said recruiters expected some European Union nationals to eventually return to Britain to work, “but the vast majority won’t; that’s the anticipation.”
To help fill the gap, there is a broad sentiment that the industry must make hospitality an appealing career for Britons, one worth aspiring to, with training and opportunities for promotion. For now, though, this work is often considered just “a job you do in between other things,” as Ms. Shoesmith put it.
UKHospitality has teamed up with work coaches in government job centers. It wants them to promote hospitality as a “career of choice” and think beyond entry-level or front-of-house positions.
Until then, the shortage of workers is a drag on countless businesses.
In more than three decades in the industry, said John Crompton, the director at Hillbrooke Hotels, he had never known a staff shortage like this. The company, which has four “quirky luxury” hotels and inns in eastern and southern England, needs to hire at least 50 people.
Roller-coaster operators and lemonade slingers at Kennywood amusement park, a Pittsburgh summer staple, won’t have to buy their own uniforms this year. Those with a high school diploma will also earn $13 as a starting wage — up from $9 last year — and new hires are receiving free season passes for themselves and their families.
The big pop in pay and perks for Kennywood’s seasonal work force, where nearly half of employees are under 18, echoes what is happening around the country as employers scramble to hire waiters, receptionists and other service workers to satisfy surging demand as the economy reopens.
For American teenagers looking for work, this may be the best summer in years.
As companies try to go from hardly staffed to fully staffed practically overnight, teens appear to be winning out more than any demographic group. The share of 16- to 19-year-olds who are working hasn’t been this high since 2008, before the unfolding global financial crisis sent employment plummeting. Roughly 256,000 teens in that age group gained employment in April — counting for the vast majority of newly employed people — a significant change after teenagers suffered sharp job losses at the beginning of the pandemic. Whether the trend can hold up will become clearer when jobs data for May is released on Friday.
It could come with a downside. Some educators warn that jobs could distract from school. And while employment can itself offer learning opportunities, the most recent wave of hiring has been led by white teens, raising concerns that young people from minority groups might miss out on a hot summer labor market.
antique roller coaster and snapping people into paddle boats when she thought it paid $9 — so when she found out the park was lifting pay to $13 an hour, she was thrilled.
“I love it,” she said. She doesn’t even mind having to walk backward on the carousel to check that everyone is riding safely, though it can be disorienting. “After you see the little kids and they give you high-fives, it doesn’t matter at all.”
It’s not just Kennywood paying up. Small businesses in a database compiled by the payroll platform Gusto have been raising teen wages in service sector jobs in recent months, said Luke Pardue, an economist at the company. Teens took a hit at the onset of the pandemic but got back to their pre-coronavirus wage levels in March 2021 and have spent the first part of May seeing their wages accelerate above that.
raised the starting pay to $10 an hour and dropped the minimum age for applicants from 16 years old to 15. It seems to have worked: More teenagers applied and the city has started interviewing candidates for the open positions.
“Between 2020 and 2021, it seems like a lot of the retail starting salaries really jumped up, and we just kind of had to follow suit if we wanted to be competitive and get qualified applicants,” said Trace Stevens, the city’s director of parks and recreation.
Apps for Apps” deal in which applicants who were interviewed received a free appetizer voucher. Restaurants and gas stations across the country are offering signing bonuses.
But the perks and better pay may not reach everyone. White teens lost employment heavily at the beginning of the pandemic, and they’ve led the gains in 2021, even as Black teens have added comparatively few and Hispanic teens actually lost jobs. That’s continuing a long-running disparity in which white teens work in much greater numbers, and the gap could worsen if the current trajectory continues.
More limited access to transportation is one factor that may hold minority teens back from work, Ms. Sasser Modestino said. Plus, while places like Cape Cod and suburban neighborhoods begin to boom, some urban centers with public transit remain short on foot traffic, which may be disadvantaging teens who live in cities.
“We haven’t seen the demand yet,” said Joseph McLaughlin, research and evaluation director at the Boston Private Industry Council, which helps to place students into paid internships and helps others to apply to private employers, like grocery stores.
Ms. Sasser Modestino’s research has found that the long-running decline in teen work has partly come from a shift toward college prep and internships, but that many teens still need and want jobs for economic reasons. Yet the types of jobs teens have traditionally held have dwindled — Blockbuster gigs are a thing of the past — and older workers increasingly fill them.
Teenagers who are benefiting now may not be able to count on a favorable labor market for the long haul, said Anthony P. Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
“There may be what will surely be a brief positive effect, as young people can move into a lot of jobs where adults have receded for whatever reason,” he said. “It’s going to be temporary, because we always take care of the adults first.”
Educators have voiced a different concern: That today’s plentiful and prosperous teen jobs might be distracting students from their studies.
When in-class education restarted last August at Torrington High School, which serves 330 students in a small city in Wyoming, principal Chase Christensen found that about 10 of his older students weren’t returning. They had taken full-time jobs, including working night shifts at a nursing home and working at a gravel pit, and were reluctant to give up the money. Five have since dropped out of or failed to complete high school.
“They had gotten used to the pay of a full-time worker,” Mr. Christensen said. “They’re getting jobs that usually high schoolers don’t get.”
If better job prospects in the near term overtake teenagers’ plans for additional education or training, that could also spell trouble. Economic research consistently finds that those who manage to get through additional training have better-paying careers.
Still, Ms. Sasser Modestino pointed out that a lot of the hiring happening now was for summer jobs, which have less chance of interfering with school. And there may be upsides. For people like Ms. Bailley, it means an opportunity to save for textbooks and tuition down the road. She’d like to go to community college to complete prerequisites, and then pursue an engineering degree.
“I’ve always been interested in robots, I love programming and coding,” she said, explaining that learning how roller coasters work lines up with her academic interests.
Shaylah Bentley, 18 and a new season pass taker at Kennywood, said the higher-than-expected wage she’s earning will allow her to decorate her dorm room at Slippery Rock University. She’s a rising sophomore this year, studying exercise science.
“I wanted to save up money for school and expenses,” she said. “And have something to do this summer.”
The government of the Philippines, one of the largest sources of foreign labor in Israel, said on Thursday that it would temporarily stop sending its citizens to work there because of the conflict.
The announcement came a day after a rocket attack by Hamas militants killed two Thai agricultural workers and wounded at least seven others at a packaging house in southern Israel. A week earlier, a Hamas strike killed an Indian woman who worked as a caregiver in the city of Ashkelon.
The Philippines’ labor secretary, Silvestre Bello III, told the ABS-CBN news network that it would not allow workers to travel to Israel “until we can ensure their safety.”
“As of now we won’t be deploying workers,” he said, adding: “As we can see, there’s bombing everywhere. If we deploy, it would be difficult — it would be my responsibility.”
more Filipinos are applying to work in Israel, where they earn higher salaries than they could at home, and demand for their services is increasing. The Israeli government recently relaxed educational requirements for overseas caregivers, and 400 Filipinos were set to travel to Israel until the Philippine government announced the pause.
No Filipino has been injured since fighting between Israel and Hamas militants began on May 10, officials said. The Philippine government has said that it is prepared to bring its citizens home from Israel amid the conflict, but that none have expressed interest.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in a briefing on Wednesday that the recent deaths of the foreign workers were “one more manifestation of the fact that Hamas indiscriminately targets everyone.”
Israel has likewise been criticized for military airstrikes in Gaza that have killed more than 200 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,600 since May 10.
GAZA CITY — Riad Ishkontana had promised his children that their building on Al Wahida Street was safe, though for Zein, his 2-year-old son, the thunder of the airstrikes spoke louder than his reassurances.
The Israelis had never bombed the neighborhood before, he told them. Theirs was a comfortable, tranquil area by Gaza City standards, full of professionals and shops, nothing military. The explosions were still far away. To soothe them all, he started calling home “the house of safety.”
Mr. Ishkontana, 42, tried to believe it, too, though around them the death toll was climbing — not by inches, but by leaps, by housefuls, by families.
He was still telling the children about their house of safety all the way up until after midnight early Sunday morning, when he and his wife were watching more plumes of gray smoke rising from Gaza on TV. She went to put the five children to bed. For all his attempts at comforting them, the family felt more secure sleeping all together in the boys’ room in the middle of the third-floor apartment.
killed 227 Palestinians in Gaza, striking at Hamas militants who were firing rockets at Israel from the coastal strip, but in the process further compounding the agony of what, for Gaza’s two million residents, is already a kind of crumbling open-air prison. Its electricity, water, sanitation and health care systems, rarely stable before the airstrikes, are now in shambles. With its borders shut by Israel and Egypt, there is nowhere for its people to flee.
a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” the White House principal deputy press secretary said. European governments were also pushing for an immediate cease-fire, while international parties, including Egypt, attempted to mediate.
Hamas rockets have also kept killing people in Israel — 13 in all since the start on May 10. Among the dead were three foreign workers, who make up most of Israel’s agricultural work force but have long endured squalid living conditions there. After two Thai employees of a packaging plant near the Gaza border were killed on Tuesday, a local official told The Times of Israel newspaper that the agricultural community where they worked did not have an adequate shelter against rockets.
Israel says its American-funded Iron Dome defense system has intercepted about 90 percent of the rockets.
In Gaza, there is neither Iron Dome nor dedicated shelter, only the strip’s United Nations-run schools, whose classrooms are overflowing with 47,000 evacuees. The United Nations said another 29,000 people have been forced to leave their homes and shelter with other families, for a total of about 75,000 people displaced in Gaza by the Israeli military campaign.
In the jagged blackness where he was buried under what had been his apartment, Mr. Ishkontana said, he could hear Zein, his 2-year-old, moving around and crying, “Baba! Baba!” Dana, 8, was also calling to her father for help, her voice trembling.
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Mr. Ishkontana was pinned in place. The walls, pillar and roof had fallen on his chest, back, hand and right leg, breaking two ribs and slicing off a finger. He tried shouting for help, but he barely had the strength.
“I was surrounded by death and the end of life,” he said. “I felt like my life was over. I was waiting for death at any moment.”
After a few minutes, Zein went quiet. So did Dana.
Six hours passed.
Then there was a noise, Mr. Ishkontana recalled. A whir of machinery, faint but unmistakable. A bulldozer?
“Who’s alive?” he heard a man calling. “Is anyone alive?”
Hope crashed over him, carrying with it the thought: I’m going to live.
“Oh God!” he started shouting, alternating prayers with calls to the rescuers. One of them told him to keep breathing while they dug down toward him through the debris, gray but for the occasional splotch of floral couch or purple dishrag or bag of bread.
The rescuer asked Mr. Ishkontana if there were any signs of life around him.
No, he said.
When Mr. Ishkontana saw a small hole open up above him, he stuck two fingers through it to let them know they had found him. Up above, people were chanting, “God is great! God is great!” He raised the two fingers in a weak victory sign.
His feelings, he said in an interview on Wednesday at a relative’s house, where visitors had come to offer condolences after he was discharged from a hospital, were a jumble: “power, mercy, strength, survival.”
“A new life appeared on the horizon when they moved the rubble,” said Mr. Ishkontana, who, after losing his job as a waiter at a Thai restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic, had turned to odd jobs. “Even though I was thinking at the same time that because I lost my family, my whole life was gone.”
At Shifa Hospital several hours later, someone gave him the news: One of his daughters, 7-year-old Suzy, had been found alive under the rubble a few hours after him, only lightly wounded in the face. In joy, then terror, he asked about the rest of his family: his wife, Abeer, 28; and Dana, 8; Lana, 6; Yahya, 5; and baby Zein.
The man said rescuers were still hoping to save them from the rubble.
But he knew that the man was trying to cushion the blow, Mr. Ishkontana said. He knew they were all gone.
Iyad Abuheweila reported from Gaza City, and Vivian Yee from Cairo. Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel, and Elian Peltier from Inverie, Scotland.
Foreign workers have long faced precarious living conditions in Israel, especially during military conflict. And on Tuesday, a Hamas rocket attack killed two Thai workers and wounded at least seven others in a packaging house in southern Israel, Thai and Israeli officials said.
Businesses near the border with Gaza are allowed to operate if they have access to a bomb shelter or a safety room, but a local official said the agricultural community where the Thai workers died did not have such a space.
That is often the case with such setups, an expert on foreign labor in Israel said.
“Thai workers come to Israel on temporary programs and live in caravans and containers that are often overcrowded and in poor sanitary conditions,” said Yahel Kurlander, a researcher and the University of Tel Aviv who specializes in Thai workers in Israel.
“These housings don’t have the safety rooms required by law or outlined in the contracts of these workers, who don’t have anywhere to hide,” she added.
Indian woman who worked as a caregiver in Ashkelon. Previous Hamas rocket attacks killed a Thai agricultural worker in Israel in 2014 and injured another in 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a briefing on Wednesday that the recent deaths of the foreign workers were “one more manifestation of the fact that Hamas indiscriminately targets everyone.”
Israel has likewise been criticized for the killing of civilians in Gaza in military airstrikes. Those strikes in the past 10 days have killed over 200 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,500 others.
HONG KONG — The noodle shop was doing a brisk Friday evening business, with diners crowded at shared tables. Eni Lestari, a migrant domestic worker in Hong Kong, spotted a seat near another woman and hurried to claim it.
Suddenly, the woman stood, and, according to Ms. Lestari, declared that she would not sit near her.
She did not give a reason. But hours earlier, the Hong Kong government had ordered virtually all of the city’s 370,000 migrant domestic workers — mostly Southeast Asian women in an otherwise largely racially homogeneous city — to take coronavirus tests and vaccines. Officials said they were “high risk” for infection, because of their habit of “mingling” with other migrant workers.
“They don’t think about us as humans who also have a social life,” said Ms. Lestari, who came to Hong Kong from Indonesia 20 years ago. “The frustration and anger of the Hong Kong public during Covid-19 — now it’s directed at the domestic workers.”
exposed the plight of migrant and other low-paid workers, whose labor undergirds local economies but is often unrecognized or exploited. Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest densities of migrant domestic workers, who make up about 10 percent of the working population.
excludes migrant workers.
In the pandemic, government officials and employers have invoked public health to impose more restrictions.
Domestic workers — euphemistically called “helpers” — have described being barred from leaving their employers’ homes on their day off, in the name of preventing infection. Those who can leave say they are harassed by the police and passers-by. The government has repeatedly accused the workers of violating social distancing restrictions, though other groups, including expatriates and wealthy locals, have been at the heart of the city’s major outbreaks.
Officials singled out domestic workers with their first, and only, vaccination order. The requirement did not apply to the workers’ employers, with whom they are in daily contact.
is high across Hong Kong, Law Chi-kwong, the city’s labor secretary, said in a news conference that the workers were in a “different situation” than locals. If they did not want to get vaccinated, he added, “they can leave Hong Kong.”
Workers denounced the announcement as racist. Officials from the Philippines and Indonesia — Hong Kong’s primary sources of migrant labor — objected. A few days later, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, withdrew the vaccination requirement, though she maintained the only consideration had been public health.
But the testing requirement remained — and last week, Mrs. Lam ordered a second round, even though the first had yielded just three positive cases.
“What is the scientific basis?” said Dolores Balladares, a Filipina worker and spokeswoman for Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, an advocacy group. “Are they not fed up with thinking that migrant domestic workers are virus carriers?”
proposed locking down workers on their day off. She did not propose any restrictions during the week, when they often buy groceries and run other errands.
Mr. Law, the labor secretary, rejected that proposal at the time, noting that the infection rate among domestic workers was half of the rate in the general public.
Maricel Jaime, a Filipina worker who has been in Hong Kong for six years, said she had come to expect constant supervision on Sundays, when most domestic workers are off. During Christmas, she and her friends were careful to gather in small groups and to maintain distance. Still, whenever they briefly got close — to pass around food, or to retrieve something from a bag — officers hurried over to chastise them, she said.
“The police are around us, always checking. Even if we are following the rules, the police are still hassling us,” Ms. Jaime said.
Puja Kapai, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong who studies ethnic minorities’ rights.
immediately denied that the rule was discriminatory. (He had, however, previously said that restricting access to restaurants by vaccination status could be discriminatory.)
Despite the attention that the pandemic has brought to the difficulties faced by migrant workers, Professor Kapai said she doubted that governments would embrace reform. Hong Kong’s economy has been battered by the outbreak, making pay raises for domestic workers unlikely, and few local residents have spoken out in the workers’ defense.
“I don’t think there is much of an incentive for the Hong Kong government to do anything differently,” she said.
Still, some workers are trying to create change.
Ms. Jaime, who is also a leader in a union for domestic workers, said she spends her Sundays trying to inform other workers of their rights — while complying with social distancing rules.
“I have fear to go outside because of Covid,” she said. “But I have so much fear that this kind of discrimination will get worse and worse.”
In early April, Payal Raj accompanied her family to India to renew the visas that permit them to live in the United States. She and her husband waited until they had been vaccinated, carefully preparing their paperwork according to the advice of their immigration lawyers. But the visa itself would soon strand her in India indefinitely, separating her from her husband and daughter in Hendersonville, Tenn.
“Our family is in a crisis,” said Ms. Raj, who is one of thousands of immigrants stuck in India, in part because the Biden administration’s restrictions on most travel from the country mean that temporary visa holders are explicitly barred from re-entering the United States. “Every morning is a struggle.”
The restrictions, issued as a devastating surge in coronavirus cases has overwhelmed India in recent weeks, prohibit Ms. Raj and others like her from returning to their homes, families and jobs in the United States. Even those exempt under the ban are in limbo as the outbreak forces the U.S. Embassy and consulates to close, leaving many with no clear path home.
Ms. Raj’s husband, Yogesh Kumar, an operations manager for a multinational corporation, lives in the United States on an H-1B visa, or a temporary permit for highly technical foreign workers. As dependents, Ms. Raj and their daughter hold H-4 visas, which allow temporary workers to bring immediate family and must be renewed about every three years at an embassy or consulate outside the United States.
American citizens and permanent residents, for instance, can travel freely, while people who are fully vaccinated, test negative or quarantine before and after flying cannot. The administration has not indicated when or under what circumstances it would lift the restrictions.
“They just put the same blanket ban for India that they were using in the Trump administration,” said Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer who is suing the Biden administration over the State Department’s inability to issue visas in countries experiencing lockdowns. “This was the same style ban that President Biden said last March was ineffective and was a bad idea.”
The United States has restricted entry from a number of countries, but the most recent ban has had a disproportionate effect on Indians in the United States given that Indian citizens claim more than two-thirds of H-1B visas issued each year. Including those on other kinds of nonimmigrant visas, immigration lawyers estimate that thousands of Indians living in the United States have been affected.
Some traveled to India when coronavirus case counts were low to renew their visas or see family. Others went to care for sick or dying relatives. Now some are unable to secure even emergency appointments to renew their visas at the embassy in New Delhi or any of the four U.S. consulates in India.
In late April, Gaurav Chauhan traveled to Agra to care for his father, who was hospitalized with the coronavirus. He is now separated from his wife and two children, who live in Atlanta.
As a parent of American citizens who are minors, Mr. Chauhan is exempt from the ban, but he has been unable to make an emergency appointment on the State Department’s website to renew his visa. His employer, a software company, has temporarily allowed Mr. Chauhan, who works in human resources, to do his job overseas. But others in similar situations say they have been asked to leave their jobs.
analysis of State Department data by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
Such shutdowns should not stop visa processing, Mr. Siskind said, pointing to other immigration agencies that had successfully adapted to remote work and exceptions to in-person document submission.
“One of the issues with the State Department for the last 14 months is their lack of imagination in terms of how to change their procedures in a pandemic,” Mr. Siskind said. “They have, for example, not switched to video interviewing, which is something that they have the statutory authority to do.”
The State Departmentacknowledged that “services are limited” at U.S. outposts in India but said that it would “make every attempt to continue to honor approved emergency visa appointments.” The department could not provide a specific date for when other visa services would resume.
Abhiram, a professor in Broward County, Fla., whose wife and 3-year-old daughter remain outside Hyderabad after visiting family in January, said he did not fault the government for enforcing travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But the situation has made him consider whether to stay in the United States.
“Every day my daughter asks me, ‘Daddy, where are you?’” said Abhiram, who asked to be identified only by his middle name. “I do feel sometimes like going back to my home country, rather than dealing with this.”
But for Ms. Raj and her family, home is Hendersonville.
“Our whole day-to-day life was interacting with our neighbors, going and visiting friends, getting together for backyard parties. It’s been wonderful,” she said. “I don’t want to uproot our lives.”
KATHMANDU, Nepal — Most of Nepal is under lockdown, its hospitals overwhelmed. Bangladesh suspended vaccination sign-ups after promised supplies were cut off. Sri Lanka’s hopes of a tourism-led economic revival have collapsed.
As India battles a horrific surge of the coronavirus, the effects have spilled over to its neighbors. Most nearby countries have sealed their borders. Several that had been counting on Indian-made vaccines are pleading with China and Russia instead.
The question is whether that will be enough, in a region that shares many of the risk factors that made India so vulnerable: densely populated cities, heavy air pollution, fragile health care systems and large populations of poor workers who must weigh the threat of the virus against the possibility of starvation.
Though the countries’ outbreaks can’t all be linked to India, officials across the region have expressed growing dread over how easily their fates could follow that of their neighbor.
huge, maskless rallies in India hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi even as infections rose. Likewise, both the ruling and opposition parties in Nepal held large political gatherings after the prime minister dissolved Parliament in December.
told CNN on Saturday that Nepal’s situation was “under control” but acknowledged that “political instability” had led to “some mistakes.” On Monday night, Mr. Oli lost a vote of no confidence in Parliament, throwing Nepal into further turmoil.
Aid workers have warned that the parallels between Nepal and India may continue, as hospitals turn all but the most critically ill patients away. With medical oxygen supplies running short, as they did in India, Nepal’s government has imposed quotas for each hospital, which doctors say are far from adequate. Reports of patients dying from insufficient oxygen have spread.
said in a statement last week.
Vaccines are unlikely to help immediately. Nepal paid for two million doses from India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest producer of vaccines. But as India’s crisis has escalated, its government has essentially halted exports, leaving Nepal a million doses short.
India’s pause has also scrambled vaccination plans in Bangladesh. Late last month, the authorities there announced that they would temporarily stop accepting new registrations for shots after supplies from the Serum Institute were cut off.
95 percent of its eligible population. Bhutan last month suspended entry for foreign workers, after experts cited concerns about laborers coming from India.
The border between Pakistan and India was closed even before the pandemic because of political tensions. But in Pakistan, too, cases are rising. Asad Umar, the official leading its coronavirus response, cited the fact that “the entire region is exploding with cases and deaths” to explain new lockdowns.
coronavirus response plan last May, it estimated that local facilities would be insufficient if there were more than 5,000 active cases at once. Now there are more than 100,000.
For many Nepalis, anger and sorrow have mixed with utter helplessness.
Pramod Pathak, a businessman in the border district of Kailali, has watched in anxiety and sorrow as migrant workers returned from India. They have crowded every day into overwhelmed testing centers, or — for the many for whom there are no tests — simply crammed into shared cars and returned to their villages.
“The virus is transmitting as they travel in jam-packed vehicles,” Mr. Pathak said. “There’s no safety for them no matter where they go — be it India or Nepal.”
Bhadra Sharma reported from Kathmandu, Nepal; Aanya Wipulasena from Colombo, Sri Lanka; and Vivian Wang from Hong Kong. Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Chencho Dema from Thimphu, Bhutan.
REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. — Dogfish Head Craft Brewery is struggling to hire manufacturing workers for its beer factory and staff members for its restaurants in this coastal area, a shortage that has grown so acute that the company has cut dining room hours and is now offering vintage cases of its 120 Minute India Pale Ale as a signing bonus to new hires.
The company is using its hefty social media presence “to get the bat signal out” and “entice beverage-loving adults” to join the team, Sam Calagione, the company’s founder, said on a steamy afternoon this month at Dogfish’s brewpub, which was already doing brisk business ahead of vacation season.
Economic activity is expected to surge in Delaware and across the country as people who missed 2020 getaways head for vacations and the newly vaccinated spend savings amassed during months at home.
Yet as they race to hire before an expected summertime economic boom, employers are voicing a complaint that is echoing all the way to the White House: They cannot find enough workers to fill their open positions and meet the rising customer demand.
April labor market report underscored those concerns. Economists expected companies to hire one million people, but data released on Friday showed that they had added only 266,000, even as vaccines became widely available and state and local economies began springing back to life. Many analysts thought labor shortages might explain the disappointment.
Some blame expanded unemployment benefits, which are giving an extra $300 per week through September, for keeping workers at home and hiring at bay. Republican governors in Arkansas, Montana and South Carolina moved last week to end the additional benefits for unemployed workers in their states, citing companies’ labor struggles.
President Biden said on Monday that there was no evidence that the benefit was chilling hiring. In remarks at the White House, he said his administration would make clear that any worker who turned down a suitable job offer, with rare exceptions for health concerns related to the coronavirus, would lose access to unemployment benefits. But school closings, child care constraints and incomplete vaccine coverage were playing a larger role in constraining hiring, the president said.
He called on companies to step up by helping workers gain access to vaccines and increasing pay. “We also need to recognize that people will come back to work if they’re paid a decent wage,” Mr. Biden said.
In tourist spots like Rehoboth Beach, companies face a shortage of seasonal immigrants, a holdover from a ban enacted last year that has since expired. But the behavior of the area’s businesses, from breweries to the boardwalk, suggests that much of the labor shortage also owes to the simple reality that it is not easy for many businesses simultaneously to go from a standstill to an economic sprint — especially when employers are not sure the new boom will last.
The New York Times visited last year to take the temperature of the labor market, think workers will come flooding back in September, when the more generous unemployment benefits expire.
At least 10 people in and around Rehoboth, managers and workers alike, cited expanded payments as a key driver of the labor shortage, though only two of them personally knew someone who was declining to work to claim the benefit.
“Some of them are scared of the coronavirus,” said Alan Bergmann, a resident who said he knew six or seven people who were forgoing work. Mr. Bergmann, 37, was unable to successfully claim benefits because the state authorities said he had earned too little in either Delaware or Pennsylvania — where he was living in the months before the pandemic — to qualify.
Whether it is unemployment insurance, lack of child care or fear of infection that is keeping people home, the perception that the job market is hot is at odds with overall labor numbers. Nationally, payroll employment was down 8.2 million compared with its prepandemic level, and unemployment remained elevated at 6.1 percent in April.
shorti” hoagies each shift for new associates. A local country club is offering referral bonuses and opening up jobs to members’ children and grandchildren. A regional home builder has instituted a cap on the number of houses it can sell each month as everything — open lots, available materials, building crews — comes up short.
Openings have been swiftly increasing — a record share of small business owners report having an opening they are trying to fill — and quit rates have rebounded since last year, suggesting that workers have more options.
Mr. Bergmann is among those who are benefiting. He said he had a felony on his record, and between that and the coronavirus, he was unable to find work last year. He struggled to survive with no income, cycling in and out of homelessness. Now he works a $16-an-hour job selling shirts on the boardwalk and has been making good money as a handyman for the past three months, enough to rent a room.
Brittany Resendes, 18, a server at the Thompson Island Brewing Company in Rehoboth Beach, took unemployment insurance temporarily after being furloughed in March 2020. But she came back to work in June, even though it meant earning less than she would have with the extra $600 top-up available last year.
“I was just ready to get back to work,” she said. “I missed it.”
She has since been promoted to waitress and is now earning more than she would if she were still at home claiming the $300 expanded benefit. She plans to serve until she leaves for the University of Delaware in August, and then return during school breaks.
Scott Kammerer oversees a local hospitality company that includes the brewery where Ms. Resendes works, along with restaurants like Matt’s Fish Camp, Bluecoast and Catch 54. He has been able to staff adequately by offering benefits and taking advantage of the fact that he retained some workers since his restaurants did not close fully or for very long during the pandemic.
optimism and trillions in government spending fuel an economic rebound. If many businesses treat the summer bounce as likely to be short lived, it may keep price gains in check.
At Dogfish Head, the solution has been to also temporarily limit what is on offer. The Rehoboth brewpub has cut its lunches, and its sister restaurant next door is closed on Mondays. Mr. Calagione said he did not want to think about the business they would forgo if they cannot hire the dozens of employees needed by the peak summer season.
But as it offers cases of its cult-favorite beer and signing bonuses to draw new hires, the company seems less focused on another lever: lasting pay bumps. Steve Cannon, a server at Dogfish Head, can walk to what he regards as his retirement job. He said he was not thinking of switching employers, but several co-workers had left recently for better wages elsewhere.
“There’s nobody,” said Mr. Cannon, 57. “So people are going to start throwing money at them.”
When asked if it was raising pay, Dogfish Head said it offered competitive wages for the area.