President Trump told an audience in Kenosha, Wisconsin] , the Buy American and Hire American Executive Order he’d signed on April 18, 2017 was necessary to address the “widespread abuse in our immigration system” that results in Americans “being replaced by workers brought in from other countries.”
Yet, a year later, the president contradicted his own pledge to protect American workers when he asserted that because the economy was strengthening it made sense to bring in more foreign guest workers. So, he said, “we’re gonna have the H-2Bs come in,” a reference to workers who receive visas to do seasonal, non-agricultural jobs.
Having more H-2Bs “come in” to the country perpetuates the longstanding and well-known abuses of the program, works to undercut any serious effort to reform our immigration system, and is a disservice to those workers whose jobs the president pledged to protect.
In March, the Departments of Labor (DOL) and Homeland Security (DHS) informed Congress that an additional 30,000 H-2B visas would be approved – double the number of visas issued last year. On Monday, the ball was moved forward with the release of a joint DOL-DHS rule making those spots available to returning foreign workers.
Although the newly-approved visas will be available solely to workers who’ve received an H-2B visa in the past, or were otherwise granted H-2B status, it is a decision which Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) believes betrays American workers.
In one of a series of tweets, Cotton expressed disappointment with the Administration’s “decision to import tens of thousands more low-skilled workers to take jobs that American workers want to do.” This is bad news for hard-working Americans.”
Cotton, who was briefed Tuesday on the “merit-based immigration proposal” currently being developed by the administration, rightly noted that too much cheap foreign labor “artificially suppresses wages and takes jobs from Americans.”
Cotton’s objections were echoed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who pointed out that the visas were approved “w/out commonsense reforms like E-verify 2 guarantee legal workforce.” Additionally, Grassley gave the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) grief for not acting on needed reforms of the disastrous EB-5 investor visa program.
The president deserves credit for pursuing regulatory and tax policies which have strengthened the economy and resulted in rising wages, particularly for low-wage workers. As the labor market has tightened, workers have gained the power to demand higher wages and that has benefited Americans on all economic levels.
In addition, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates there are 4.7 million Americans presently working part-time who want full-time employment, which underscores the reason to oppose importing cheap, foreign labor.
In April, a bipartisan group of senators wrote to the administration expressing continued concerns with existing abuses in the program.
“Absent significant reforms, it is hard to understand how an increase in the number of H-2B visas is in the best interests of American workers or H-2B visa holders,” stated the senators.
The Trump administration should not only heed the senators’ advice, but challenge Congress to act as well since the returning worker exemption is a disaster of their making.
Although there is a statutory annual cap of 66,000, Congress included a provision in the FY2019 appropriations legislation granting DHS authority to temporarily increase the annual limit by up to 63,500 additional visas. They did the same thing in 2017 and 2018.
If President Trump and Congress truly want a bipartisan agreement on immigration, they could start by preventing another expansion of the H-2B program and adding another brick to the wall.