Congress Spending Bill Doubles H-2B Visa Intake—Despite High US Unemployment

The new spending bill approved by the US Congress which covers the remainder of the fiscal year includes a provision to again allow the Department of Homeland Security to double the annual cap on admissions of unskilled non-agricultural workers, despite high rates of un- and under-employment for U.S. workers who could do these jobs.

H2-B Laborers from Guam are briefed before departing to the US.

According to an analysis carried out by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the step, if fully implemented by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), will add as many as 63,000 additional H-2B guest workers next year, nearly doubling the size of this program.

“According to the latest statistics released by USCIS, the H-2B program already has been growing steadily, despite high rates of un- and under-employment for U.S. workers who could do these jobs,” the CIS report continued.

The H-2B program allows employers to hire temporary foreign workers to fill low-skill, non-agricultural positions. The law provides for an annual cap of 66,000 visas per year, with a few exceptions. There are three steps to the H-2B process.

The CIS does not, of course, mention that the vast majority of these H-2B visa applicants are from Third World countries.

The process for acquiring a H-2B visa is as follows, according to the CIS: First, an employer petitions the Department of Labor (DOL) for a foreign labor certification.

At this stage, employers apply for foreign laborers, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of them. They are required to show that they have a “temporary need” for these workers, that they will pay the prevailing or other appropriate wage, and that they have made some effort to recruit U.S. workers.

There are many definitional loopholes that employers can use to access the program, and most are assisted by labor brokers. In 2017, the Department of Labor approved 81 percent of all petitions for H-2B laborers, similar to the 2016 approval rate of 83 percent.

Second, the employer submits an I-129 form to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This form is used for all instances of requesting foreign labor.

Finally, prospective alien workers apply for the H-2B visa, usually at a consulate in their home countries. They may remain for the period of stay approved in their labor certification, generally for no more than one year and in one of the two seasons.

Some workers are approved for temporary jobs with more than one employer in different seasons, usually with the help of labor brokers, and are not counted twice even though they work in both seasons.

H-2B workers are intended to fill positions requiring little to no education or advanced skills. It is helpful to think of these jobs as ones that a typical high school or college student could do during their summer break.

Last year, the State Department issued 83,600 H-2B visas, compared to 84,627 awarded in 2016. Nevertheless, this is still significantly larger than the 69,684 issued in 2015.

The annual cap of 66,000 is divided into two seasons. Last year, Congress authorized the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to make extensions in consultation with the Department of Labor. Former DHS Secretary John Kelly (now chief of staff to the president) did so in September, allowing an additional 15,000 H-2B workers. However, only 13,000 of these additional certifications were actually needed.

The number of certified positions increased by 11 percent between FY 2016 and FY 2017. In 2017, DOL certified 133,985 positions, up from 119,232 positions certified in 2016.

A number of US states clearly have available workers of the appropriate skill level to do these jobs, the CIS report showed. In Texas, for example, the unemployment rate is 4.3 percent, and the High School dropout rate amongst 25-plus year olds in the labour force is a staggering 51.65 percent (this is of course due to the heavy nonwhite youth population).

In Florida, unemployment stands as 4.2 percent, and the dropout rate of 25-pluses in the labor force is 42.5 percent. Similar figures show up for Colorado (2.80 percent unemployment, 54.32 percent dropout rate), Louisiana (5.10%, 39.49%), North Carolina (4.60%, 43.10%), Virginia (3.80%, 43.69%), Massachusetts (3.70%, 41.53%), Pennsylvania (4.90%, 36.43%), South Carolina (4.30%, 38.36%), Arizona (4.90%, 47.08%), and Arizona (4.90%, 47.08%).

The CIS went on to point out that the average wage employers reported grew from $12.31/hour to $13.08/hour between FY 2016 and FY 2017.

“While many of the H-2B jobs may be menial in nature, the wages are significantly higher than the national minimum wage of $7.25/hour, which indicates that many of the jobs are not ‘jobs Americans won’t do,’ but more likely jobs that Americans aren’t considered for because the employers find it easier to use the H-2B program,” the report added.

“Moreover, some research shows that many of the H-2B jobs are in parts of the country where there are workers available, and that do not actually have labor shortages.”

“Rather than enlarging this controversial program, lawmakers should instead consider more innovative ways to encourage Americans to enter into the work force,” the CIS concluded.

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