It has been more than two years since President Trump won the White House by promising sweeping changes to border security and immigration law. Yet here we are—years later— and Congress has not passed any substantial reforms. In fact, we are already three months into the fiscal year, and Congress still has not even funded the Department of Homeland Security.
The current spending authority expires this Friday after having been extended multiple times over the past few months. Republicans, who will no longer have control of the House come January, should be utilizing this spending package to secure funding for the border wall. After all, this is the last opportunity to pass the president’s immigration agenda for at least the next two years. But the only immigration-related legislation Congress appears to be considering before Christmas is expanding the E-3 guest worker program.
Under the current E-3 visa program, up to 11,500 guest worker visas are awarded to Australian college graduates every year. However, in 2017, U.S. companies only hired 5,657 Australian graduates. Under the proposed legislation, Irish college graduates would become eligible to take advantage of the large chunk of unused E-3 visas. An E-3 visa permits a foreign graduate to work for two years in the United States; and although the visas can be renewed endlessly, graduates cannot switch jobs or become immigrants. As such, the visa remains a steadfast source of cheap, young graduate labor.
Because the program does not have a multi-year cap, as many as 50,000 American positions could be filled by foreign nationals by 2025. This could become especially harmful to young, American college graduates, who as a result, can lose job opportunities, wages, and bargaining power to their foreign counterparts that may be more willing to accept lower wages simply to remain in the country. If American companies are not utilizing the full number of available visas under the E-3 program, Congress should be looking to lower the cap— not expand the eligibility categories.
Nevertheless, in late November, the House of Representatives introduced and passed legislation to expand the E-3 program to include Ireland (without a single committee markup), and sent it to the Senate, where it is expected to receive a vote later this week. Under the Senate’s fast track process, the bill must receive unanimous consent to pass meaning that one Senator could prevent the legislation from making its way to President Trump.
Aside from the fact that this legislation blatantly disregards the president’s “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order, lawmakers should not be wasting time providing special carve-outs for big business and/or other countries. Congress would be better off utilizing the limited time remaining in this year to fulfill ANY of the promises that they were elected on in 2016.