The big picture argument against the alphabet soup of guestworker programs (the H-1B, H-2B, H-2A, etc.) is that they are essentially a cheap labor subsidy to business resulting in stagnant wages or outright job losses for American workers. The foreign workers, in turn, may be better off in terms of wages than they would have been in their homelands, but are at the same time exposed to potential exploitation and abuse because they are dependent on their employer-sponsor. Several cases from throughout 2020 – resulting from investigations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or the Department of Labor (DOL) – offer concrete proof that the big picture view is not merely theoretical. [Emphasis is added in below list]
- On September 14, ICE, the DOL, and the United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey announced that Savantis Solutions, LLC, an H-1B-reliant consulting and staffing company, was ordered to pay $345,000 in restitution for violating immigration and labor regulations regarding continuous employment and wage levels. A government investigation determined that from January 2014 through June 2018 the New Jersey-based company failed to pay its H-1B workers required wages on a routine basis and that the corporation improperly recruited H-1B workers by demanding they provide “security deposits” before Savantis submitted their H-1B lottery applications.
- In June, E.C. Construction Inc., a stonemason contractor based in Rineyville, Kentucky, agreed to pay $24,755 in civil penalties for violating the provisions of the H-2B temporary non-agricultural guestworker program. The company was also required to pay $76,803 in back wages to four employees. According to the DOL, the contractor exempted H-2B guest workers from drug testing requirements, and also “incorrectly classified workers as helpers while they performed the work of brickmasons or blockmasons.” By doing so, E.C. Construction was able to pay guest workers at a lower rate than required.
- An Ohio-based landscaping company, Yard Solutions, improperly exempted its temporary non-agricultural H-2B guestworkers from required drug testing and did not pay the visa processing fees for its foreign workers or for time the workers “spent traveling between the shop and the first job site of the day.” According to a June settlement agreement with DOLs Wage and Hour Division, Yard Solutions agreed to pay $18,469 in back wages to 12 employees and an additional $6,531 in civil penalties.
- In June, Eddie Woods Stables, a Florida horse training center, paid $26,514 in back wages to 42 employees for violating the labor provisions of the H-2B temporary non-agricultural visa program, as well as a $39,293 civil penalty assessed by DOL. According to a department release, their investigators found the stables had “failed to apply the offered terms and conditions of the job to all employees equally, advertising a stable attendant position at 40 hours per week to American applicants when the employer, in fact, intended the selected employees to work 48 hours per week. In addition, the employer advertised the job to U.S. workers at the locally prevailing wage rate, as required, but paid the selected foreign workers at a higher rate.”
or more examples of government actions against unscrupulous employers engaging in either guestworker visa abuse, or the hiring of illegal aliens, please visit FAIR’s Employer Sanctions page.
One may hope that similar instances of the U.S. government holding guestworker-reliant businesses accountable will serve to sufficiently deter employers from engaging in practices that hurt American workers, foreign guestworkers, or both. But, realistically, many cases undoubtedly slip through the cracks. Most importantly, Americans should ask themselves whether guestworker programs offering temporary financial benefits to certain employers is worth the price of undermining U.S. workers.
In June, President Trump temporarily suspended the entry of the holders of multiple (but not all) guestworker visa categories, keeping open the option to renew the suspension, due to COVID-19-related unemployment. We can be fairly sure, however, that once the post-coronavirus U.S. economy begins to recover and unemployment continues to further decline, there will be renewed pressure from corporate lobbyists and sympathetic politicians to restore the suspended visa programs.
That, of course, would be a step in the wrong direction because cheap foreign labor programs should be either reformed and limited, or done away with altogether. That, however, will not happen without sufficient popular pressure on the White House and, just as importantly, Congress – which is the body that can legislatively make the guestworker pause permanent.