The United States economy is continuing to recover from massive job losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the September report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States added 661,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 7.9 percent. This is down nearly 7 percentage points from the peak COVID-related unemployment rate of 14.7 percent in April. Since the recovery began in May, 52 percent of jobs lost have been recouped. This massive uptick in job recovery is evidence that the American people, when given the opportunity, will work.
The virus is still very much a part of our everyday lives as many parts of the country are still in some form of lockdown. And with the continued lockdown, furloughed employees are being permanently let go, as seen with Disney who laid off 28,000 employees at the end of September. Even in industries that are slowly coming back, everyone is operating at a limited capacity resulting in fewer staff and fewer hours. We have come a long way, but we still have a ways to go. As millions of Americans are still out of work, it is important to prioritize the American worker over outside forces.
President Trump halted guestworker programs in an effort to do just that. But as the unemployment rate continues to drop, we may see corporations petition for the reopening of the guestworker admissions through the H-1B, H-4, H-2B, L-1, and J-1 programs.
In order to safeguard the American worker, important and significant reforms need to be made to the immigration system and guestworker programs. FAIR’s Immigration Reform Blueprint for the American Worker lays out detailed reforms to immigration policies that would put the interests of American workers first as we continue to regain lost ground.
The plan? Require all employers to use E-Verify, implement a merit-based immigration system, and overhaul the guestworker programs. Thankfully, the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security released a statement on October 6 detailing long overdue changes to the H-1B visa program. What was initially intended to allow employers to supplement their workforce when gaps were present, the H-1B turned into a system which replaces American workers with cheaper, foreign labor. Such changes are an important step in the right direction.
Another step towards key immigration reform occurred when the Public Charge Grounds of Inadmissibility rule went back into effect in early September. Under Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), there are grounds for denial if a prospective immigrant is likely to become dependent on government assistance. Immigrants ought to be able to prove that they have the ability to provide for themselves and their family, not only setting themselves up for success but also limiting the fiscal responsibility that so often falls on taxpayers and welfare programs.
An ideal next step would be for Congress to pass the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act. Introduced by Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark) and David Perdue (R-Ga), the RAISE Act would replace our current immigration system with one that admits immigrants based on education, skills, and ability to contribute to the U.S. economy. This, coupled with the public charge rule, would decrease the chances of immigrants needing government assistance. The RAISE Act would also end the diversity visa lottery and reduce the overall flow of legal immigrants to 540,000 per year.
These measures would eliminate many of the harmful programs that disadvantage the American worker while also ensuring the success and prosperity of both Americans and admitted immigrants. As the unemployment rate continues to improve, it is paramount that we do not take such successes as excuses to roll back the restrictions on guestworker programs which drive down wages and increase job competition. We are on the road to recovery, but we aren’t done yet.