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Tight immigration laws are limiting labor flow of the home building industry and, in turn, housing supply. According to researchers Giovanni Peri and Reem Zaiour of the University of California, Davis, there were more than 2 million fewer immigrants than expected to enter the labor force from March 2020 to late 2021.

Nationally, foreign-born people make up 30% of construction workers, data from the Census Bureau shows, making immigrants a key part of the home building puzzle. But against a backdrop of tightened immigration policies instituted during the Trump administration and exacerbated during the pandemic, the number of foreign workers entering the construction industry has almost fallen in half. There were more than 67,000 new workers in 2016, compared to 38,900 in 2020.

The lack of immigrant workers has led to a construction shortage, even as supply-chain stoppages and material costs have eased. NBC News compared Census Bureau data on the immigrant construction worker population in each state with a 2022 report on home underproduction by affordable housing nonprofit Up for Growth and found a strong relationship between foreign workforces and slowed home building. Specifically, for each additional 1% increase in immigrant worker share, there was a predicted corresponding increase of 6,563 in the gap between built housing units and demand for units.

“I can’t say how many times our members have said, ‘We’d bid on more work, we’d be doing more projects if we had more people to do the construction,’” said Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs at Associated General Contractors of America, which represents home builders across the country.

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