They’re cheering at Martha’s Vineyard and in the horse paddocks, but the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to double the increase of H-2B foreign worker visas isn’t good news for America’s working class.
Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, lauded the move by DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, saying it “will provide relief to horse trainers desperate to hire foreign workers for backstretch positions.”
Out at Cape Cod, where restaurateurs and other businesses thirst for more low-skilled foreign labor, some owners say they are “working seven days a week flipping burgers, busing tables and cleaning up cigarette butts to make up for the staffing shortage.”
The Trump administration has repeatedly allowed the H-2B program to grow beyond its annual statutory cap of 66,000. In 2017 and 2018, Nielsen permitted “temporary” increases of 15,000 more guest workers.
“Congress authorized the increases, but left the decision up to DHS so as to avoid political accountability,” noted Preston Huennekens, a researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies.
In February, the federal spending bill signed by the president allowed DHS to raise the H-2B cap up to 135,000 – a level never hit, even under President Obama.
Not surprisingly, wages have stagnated or declined in H-2B job classifications ranging from groundskeepers to coaches to carnival workers. The non-partisan Economic Policy Institute reported that wages flat-lined or fell in all of the top 15 H-2B occupations. For workers in 10 of the top 15 H-2B fields, wages declined.
Huennekens’ CIS analysis concludes that the H-2B program “is a raw deal for Americans because H-2B visa holders get paid less than their American counterparts. In fact, H-2B visas prevent many of the neediest Americans from securing meaningful employment.”
“For President Trump to allow this program to flourish is a betrayal of his promise to protect the American worker,” Huennekens concluded.
Trump himself has used low-skill visas to fill jobs at some of his properties. In October, his Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago, requested H-2Bs for 78 cooks, housekeepers and servers.
He may call that the “Art of the Deal,” but is it worth cheering about? While not openly applauding (wouldn’t be politically expedient), the silence from Capitol Hill Democrats speaks volumes about their priorities, as well.