U.S. employers are clamoring for yet more temporary workers, and a compliant Congress is cynically tasking the Trump administration with the final decision about whether to admit them.
The latest federal appropriations bill, which funds the government through the end of the fiscal year, includes a designed loophole that authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to issue as many as double the H-2B visas, which is technically capped at 66,000 a year. The move effectively shifts responsibility for admitting more foreign workers from Congress to the administration.
The H-2B program — designed to fill temporary, semi-skilled non-agricultural jobs in such sectors as tourism, hospitality, and landscaping – has drawn criticism from President Trump for undercutting working-class Americans.
From 2013 to 2016, annual H-2B visas rose from 58,000 to 85,000, thanks to loosened eligibility requirements set by Congress. Midway through this fiscal year, employers sought approval for 121,000 H-2B workers.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., quietly applied more grease with an appropriations provision exempting former H-2B workers from any caps at all. This followed defunding of Department of Labor audits into temporary foreign-worker recruitment records, making it even easier for H-2B employers to bypass U.S. workers.
Cranking up the pressure this week, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., threatened to freeze Trump’s nomination for director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services until additional H-2Bs are granted.
Congress isn’t the only bad actor in the H-2B saga. Usurping Congressional authority, bureaucrats at the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (now USCIS) repeatedly lowered the bar for eligibility while “a series of backdoor agency decisions wiped out labor protections for many U.S. workers,” wrote Michelle Malkin and John Miano in “Sold Out,” their book critiquing abuses in America’s guest-worker system.
Increases in H-2B allotments come amid a loss of lower-skilled employment opportunities for U.S. workers and eroding wages.
Take those landscaping jobs, for example. The average certified H-2B wage for a landscaper in Colorado was $10.34 per hour – 25 percent below the average wage for non-H-2B landscapers.
Meantime, the ranks of foreign labor are growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that non-American workers made up 16.9 percent of this country’s labor force in 2016, up from 13.3 percent in 2000.
The finagling over H-2B caps – and the liberal use of foreign-worker visas generally – has the nation’s largest union and some progressive thinkers reconsidering their embrace of cheap imported labor. The AFL-CIO issued a fact sheet titled, “Why the H-2B Program is Bad for Working People.”
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in May he would consider raising the H-2B cap. DHS affirmed last month that the cap will be raised, though no decision has been made on how many visas would be approved.