At the height of the pandemic, then-President Donald Trump wisely paused certain guestworker admissions, citing widespread unemployment as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In January, President Trump signed an extension of these protections until March 31.
Despite his continued warnings that the pandemic is far from over, President Joe Biden decided to let those protections expire.
The proclamation banned new admissions of guestworkers in the H-1B, H-2B, L-1, and J-1 categories. All of these workers compete with Americans for openings and wages throughout different sectors of the economy. Guestworkers in the H-2B and J-1 programs work in non-skilled, non-agricultural sectors – mainly jobs in hospitality, entertainment, landscaping, and construction. Guestworkers in the H-1B and L-1 programs work in white-collar roles in everything from tech companies to accounting and finance firms.
The decision by President Biden to restart admissions in these programs is premature. The national unemployment rate in February 2021 stood at 6.2 percent – nearly double what it was in February 2020, at 3.5 percent. FAIR argued that the White House should not even consider lifting this pause until the unemployment rate returned to its pre-COVID low of 3.5 percent. Biden’s decision to rescind this pause is divorced from the economic reality on the ground, where millions of Americans remain unemployed.
The situation is much worse for those in the bottom quartile of the economy. Unemployment in the bottom quartile stood at a shocking 23 percent in February 2021. With nearly 1 in 4 of those workers without a paycheck, it makes little sense why the Biden administration would suddenly allow tens of thousands of unskilled H-2B and J-1 workers access to the labor market.
The outlook for college graduates is grim as well. Millions of American college students graduate in May, robbed of career fairs and on-campus recruiting that occurred before the pandemic. These students will now compete head-to-head with H-1B, L-1, and OPT guestworkers for limited jobs where American students already stand at a disadvantage given the fact that employers pay guestworkers significantly less than Americans in the same roles.
The timing for this decision simply could not have come at a worse time for American workers still suffering under the economic fallout of the pandemic. There are simply too many Americans out of work to justify rescinding the guestworker pause. President Biden had a chance to show the American working class that he stood in solidarity with them – rather than with corporate interests – by extending this guestworker pause. Instead, he did the opposite.