A Revised Immigration EO Must Include Guestworker Programs

President Trump was elected on a platform promising to protect American jobs and otherwise fix our immigration system to benefit the average American – and not merely special interest groups. The president has undoubtedly done much to further this goal, all the while facing fierce and shrill resistance and obstruction every step of the way. Unfortunately, Trump’s April 22 executive order (EO) promised much more than it actually delivered. The 60-day “pause” exempted multiple categories, including applicants for the controversial EB-5 investor visa program, numerous guestworker programs (e.g. H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, L-1, and J-1 visas), and several other groups.

The good news is that administration officials have spoken of further reviews and action in the near future. Given that the president’s stated goal was to “protect our great American workers,” it is vital to expand the scope of the EO to include the vast alphabet soup of guestworker programs and extend the order’s duration.

Even during the roaring pre-coronavirus economy, foreign guestworkers competed with Americans for jobs and all too often exerted a depressing impact on American wages. As Economics 101 would suggest, when one increases the supply of something – in this case, labor – the price of it tends to go down, or, at the very least, it is kept from rising. During times of historically low unemployment, corporate lobbyists justified the annual mass importation of foreign guestworkers (e.g. 2.7 million in 2019) by asserting that America “needs more workers,” a debunked claim that even the president bought into.

Now that 38.6 million Americans have filed unemployment claims as a result of the economic destruction wrought by COVID-19, keeping the cheap foreign labor pipeline open makes no sense, economically or politically. Americans, not foreign nationals, should be first in line for jobs once the economy reopens and begins to recover. Getting Americans off of unemployment and back to work also makes sense fiscally.

Of course, pausing and reining in all the various guestworker programs will predictably anger big business and corporate lobbyists. Many sectors of the economy, from Big Tech to Big Ag,  that have become addicted to a constant influx of cheap and dependent foreign labor – which has become essentially a form of “corporate welfare” at the expense of the American worker – will not be happy.

However, they should remember that blue-collar and middle-class Americans are not only employees, but also consumers. Undercutting them will ultimately undermine the bottom lines of U.S. businesses and also diminish tax revenues because foreign guestworkers are much more likely to send money back in the form of remittances back to their homelands than to spend their earnings here in the U.S.

Pausing guestworker programs is also likely to displease other nations that regularly export cheap labor to our country. For example, in the case of the H-1B program – which forces American college graduates and middle class professionals to compete with often cheaper foreign counterparts – India and China will be most impacted. That’s because the former supplies roughly three-fourths of annual H-1B program beneficiaries, while the latter comes in at second place with 12 percent. There is no reason why the U.S. should be allowing companies to import thousands of new guestworkers while they are laying off millions of American workers each week.

At a time when an overwhelming majority of Americans (almost 80 percent) supports pausing immigration in general, and when so many Americans are worried about their employment and financial situations, stopping foreign guestworker programs would undoubtedly be a popular policy. It would also be the right thing to do.

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