The American purview of immigration seems to rarely drift away from our southern border. However, that does not mean illegal migration and trade on our northern borders is any less detrimental to U.S. citizens. In mid-September, one elected officeholder sounded the alarm on the immigration trends displacing constituents from jobs in his state.
President of the Maine State Senate Troy Jackson (D-Allagash) fired off a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) alleging the agency has not enforced federal immigration law in the Maine logging and trucking industries. He cited the ongoing practice of these companies hiring Canadian nationals over Americans due to the lower wages those foreign workers receive.
Sen. Jackson’s claims revolved around the H-2A visa, a temporary agricultural program that allows U.S. companies to hire seasonal farmworkers from other countries, so long as the company cannot find Americans to occupy those jobs. Additionally, the hiring of foreign workers must not negatively impact American workers or their wages. While this sounds good on paper, the fact is that this visa program is regularly abused, and the rules ignored.
According to Jackson, Maine logging companies have repeatedly abused these visas by hiring Canadian truckers to illegaly transport wood cargo across different locations in the U.S. interior, rather than transporting their contents across the border and then returning to Canada as required.
During a pandemic, when Americans across the country are struggling to find work, one would think it would be prudent for an employer to hire or retain as many American workers as possible. Loggers and truckers are not an exception to our deteriorated labor market. The virus has exacerbated employment prospects and the ability to find decent wages. The lure of importing cheap foreign labor comes at the cost of replacing U.S. citizens.
The H-2A program needs reform to counter the adverse effects of importing cheap foreign labor to replace American workers. The nonimmigrant visa has no cap, allowing employers to hire foreign workers in large numbers.
According to a Center for Immigration Studies 2018 estimate, 8 percent of the logging industry comprises of foreign workers. At the time, that specific industry had nearly 9.3 percent unemployment for native workers. Either American loggers see an issue with the wages being offered and reject it, or logging companies know what the average salary for American workers is in the current market and are overlooking them to hire foreigners.
Why would these companies bother negotiating wages when they have a near-endless supply of foreign workers who will almost always accept less?
A solution would be to enact U.S. Rep. Jared Golden’s (D-Maine) proposed amendment to funding the DOL. The proposal would block funding to H-2A visas that employ foreign nationals to transport logging materials in the interior of the United States. The Trump administration could also consider adding H-2A visas to the guestworker pause.
Americans deserve a labor market that does not undermine their employment opportunities nor removes them from their current jobs. Our nonimmigrant visa programs should reflect working Americans’ priorities and their families who need a steady income flow during these trying times.