On June 22, President Trump issued an executive action temporarily suspending the H-1B program, and several other nonimmigrant guest worker programs, such as H-2B, J, and L, in addition to foreign citizens accompanying or following to join such guest workers. The move – which is expected to free up approximately 600,000 jobs for American workers – was immediately criticized by the business lobby. More recently, on July 21, a coalition of business interest groups sued the U.S. government – specifically Acting Homeland Secretary Chad Wolf and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – over the pro-American proclamation.
The lawsuit – filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, Technet, and Intrax, Inc. – claims misleadingly that the presidential proclamation is “unlawful” and “takes a sledgehammer to the statutes Congress enacted” by “effectively repeal[ing]entire visa categories for temporary workers.” (It does not. The proclamation is a temporary emergency move.) The document further waxes melodramatically that the guest worker proclamation is supposedly “inflicting severe economic harm on a wide range of American businesses across all economic sectors” and “depriv[ing]American businesses of the talent they need.”
The claims contained in the lawsuit may be special pleading, self-serving nonsense, and prompt numerous eye rolls, but they are not surprising. After all, business interests have been repeating it ad nauseam for the past three decades (i.e. ever since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990 developed distinct categories of visas, including the H-1B).
The reality is, as FAIR and other organizations that defend the American worker have long pointed out, is that the programs temporarily paused by the administration are primarily a foreign labor subsidy to employers – a form of “corporate welfare” that the business lobby somehow feels entitled to, apparently in perpetuity, and apparently regardless of the economic and unemployment situation. And there is plenty of evidence to show that, far from being the “best and the brightest” and the world’s “top talent,” many foreign guest workers are run-of-the-mill college graduates with little or no experience.
The business lobby’s justification for importing foreign au pairs is just as absurd, if not even more so. Au pairs come to the U.S. on J-1 visas – along with physicians, camp counselors, interns, teachers, and trainees – and their entry was also temporarily suspended by the recent Trump proclamation.
The lawsuit bemoans this, stating that au pairs are “used by families that would otherwise lack live-in childcare. That resource is especially critical now, with children forced to stay home by the pandemic rather than attend school in person: Without childcare, many parents will be unable to work, decreasing productivity and deepening the Nation’s economic issues.”
Are we seriously expected to believe that the wealthy cannot find 21,500 U.S. citizen or legal immigrant au pairs (that was the number of au pair exchange visitors in calendar year 2019) in a country of 330 million people – particularly at a time when 30 million Americans are unemployed?!
But, of course, in the case of au pairs – like in the case of other guest workers and visa categories covered by the June presidential proclamation – the business lobby seems not to care much about any of that.
The apologists of importing cheap foreign labor usually claim (and this is implicit throughout the lawsuit) that Americans are lazy and will simply not do certain jobs. This, apparently, includes live-in childcare as well. However, the fact is that Americans will do any job – so long as the pay and working conditions are decent – but they are much less likely to put up with various forms of exploitation. And, unfortunately, the foreign au pair program is all too frequently rife with exploitation (see, e.g. here and here), which, in turn, ends up hurting the image of America and Americans overseas, thereby undermining the stated public diplomacy purpose of the program.
The lawsuit by the Chamber of Commerce et al. should be seen for what it is: a temper tantrum thrown by special interests who have become accustomed to politicians rigging the system in their favor for way too long – by supplying them with a constant influx of cheap and exploitable foreign labor – and are now mad that President Trump has had the audacity to cut off the gravy train and suggest that American employers put American workers first.