Congress Waves Through More Low-Skill Work Visas

The carnival industry, among others, is upset that Nancy Pelosi & Co. didn’t adopt a requirement doubling the number of low-skill work visas in 2020.

But the show will most certainly go on. Dodging a straight-up vote to increase, Congress retained language authorizing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to double the cap.

In the meantime, the Department of Labor is doing its bit to recruit H-2B foreign laborers by hosting a government-administered job website. Employers seeking landscapers, construction crews, waitresses, forestry workers and even circus barkers (to name just a few) no longer need to place help-wanted ads in the communities they serve.

None of this is good news for America’s blue-collar workers.

“In passing the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act (HR 1865). Congress showed contempt for the most vulnerable American workers,” scolded Numbers USA, an immigration enforcement group. “Some 50 million working-age Americans are still outside the labor force and need to be brought in. Employers should recruit them, rather than importing cheap foreign labor through an exploited visa program.”

By retaining a provision inserted by then-House Speaker Paul Ryan in 2017, HR 1865 authorizes DHS to approve another 69,000 H-2B work permits once companies grab the first 69,000 visas. The Ryan rule essentially invites business groups and legislators to pressure DHS executives in closed-door meetings for extra H-2Bs.

“In 2019, DHS officials released roughly 30,000 extra H-2Bs amid this backroom pressure — with opposite pressure from the White House to follow the president’s Inauguration Day demand to ‘Hire American.’ In 2020, the H-2B population in the United States is likely to climb above 100,000,” Breitbart News reported last month.

Though 100,000 is smaller than the cadre of H-1B (“skilled”) visa holders admitted into the U.S. annually, the H-2B program presents its share of problems. By enabling employers to avoid available U.S. workers, the H-2B program depresses opportunities for American workers with low education and skill levels.

H-2B jobs may be menial, but wages can be higher than the national minimum hourly rate of $7.25. The ability of employers to import H-2B workers at will artificially depresses pay scales and discourages Americans from seeking these positions.

In fact, many H-2B jobs are in states where qualified workers are available, and do not actually have labor shortages.

Lawmakers can also do more encourage Americans to jump into the labor pool. In Colorado, which ranks just behind Texas and Florida for H-2B visas, one newspaper has suggested a work requirement for able-bodied adults on Medicaid, who make up 45 percent of Medicaid recipients in that state.

Perhaps the biggest drawbacks to H-2B and other foreign-labor schemes are the workers who don’t go home when their temporary visas expire. While surges of migrants across our southern border grab the headlines, visa overstays represent a significant portion of illegal aliens who settle in the United States.

Instead of handing out evermore work permits to foreigners, the federal government needs to get a handle on their comings and goings. That’s a job DHS must do.