A House Democrats’ bill aimed at relieving the economic devastation of coronavirus is named the “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act.”
An appropriately short subtitle would be the “Take Foreign Workers First Act.”
Embedded in the 1,119-page measure are provisions protecting guest workers and other foreign nationals in this country on temporary status. Page 64 of the bill directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to extend the visas of these nonimmigrant aliens past their expiration dates.
H-1B (“skilled”) workers would be permitted to stay long past the six-year limit on their temporary stays. Foreign workers scheduled to go home in the next 12 months will instead be allowed to “automatically extend such status or work authorization for the same time period as the alien’s prior status or work authorization.” For H-1Bs, the “same time period” is three years.
The extensions are intended to “ensure the timely and fair adjudication of applications or petitions … [to]prevent hardship to applicants, petitions, beneficiaries, or other persons or entities, including by granting automatic or other extensions or renewals when necessary to protect individuals from lapses in status or work authorizations.”
Such bureaucratic compassion, however well intentioned, could be misplaced.
While Democrats received political cover from libertarian think tanks and newspaper editorial boards warning of chronic (though unsubstantiated) labor shortages, the coronavirus scourge and rolling business shutdowns have blown a hole in those predictions.
“By automatically extending the visas and work permits of foreign temporary workers, they are showing callous disregard for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are being laid off and need every available job possible,” said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA.
The Democrats’ plan could keep hundreds of thousands of foreign workers in the U.S. labor market, even as unemployment is expected to near Depression-era levels of 20 percent.
Donald Trump has sent mixed signals about foreign guest workers. The candidate who campaigned for more “American jobs,” has, as president, asserted that America needs to bring in more workers from abroad. Earlier this month, DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf approved another increase in the issuance of semi-skilled H-2B work visas to foreign nationals.
According to one news report, the Democrats’ bill “provide[s]a massive giveaway to the many technology, banking, insurance and staffing companies that have replaced a huge number of U.S. graduates with large blocs of compliant Indian and Chinese graduates.”
Clearly, right now, with worldwide constraints on travel, there are logistical problems in getting people whose visas are expiring back to their homelands. However, there is no justification for granting automatic three-year renewals that may extend far beyond the scope of the current crisis.
Whichever way Congress goes, the Trump administration could responsibly exercise its authority to cancel this year’s H-1B lottery to prevent the importation of 85,000 new foreign workers and their spouses. With the coronavirus epidemic tearing at America’s economic and social fabric, and unemployment rising across the land, the price of having unsustainably high levels of foreign labor is dear – no matter how cheap those workers might be.