The GOP’s business-first leadership has expanded the H-2B visa-worker program, so reducing marketplace pressure on companies to offer higher wages to Americans just months before the November election.
The pre-election giveaway is buried on page 1760 of the 2232-page 2018 omnibus bill, where language allows the Department of Homeland Security to greatly expand the size of the H-2B visa-worker program up to roughly 100,000 imported workers:
SEC. 205. Notwithstanding the [66,000] numerical limitation set forth in section 214(g)(1)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1184(g)(1)(B)), the Secretary of Homeland Security, after consultation with the Secretary of Labor, and upon the determination that the needs of American businesses cannot be satisfied in fiscal year 2018 with United States workers who are willing, qualified, and able to perform temporary nonagricultural labor, may increase the total number of aliens who may receive a visa under section 101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(b) of such Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(b)) in such fiscal year above such limitation by not more than the highest number of H–2B nonimmigrants who participated in the H–2B returning worker program in any fiscal year in which returning workers were exempt from such numerical limitation.
The jargon gives the green light to Senators and Representatives to pressure DHS leaders until unless they agree to hand out more H-2B visas to the politicians’ local employers.
Employers got their H-2B guestworker program expansion in the #omnibus – same as FY 2017, gives DHS discretion to increase the size of the program, up to approximately double the annual cap of 66,000. See page 1760: https://www.politico.com/f/?id=00000162-4b0d-de1c-abfe-6bbd26030001 …
The provision was pushed by Democratic and GOP politicians, led by North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis.
“This shows that Congress uses the budget process to grant special access to insider lobbyists,” said lawyer John Miano, who opposes visa-worker programs. “By granting the ability to slip special interest provisions into a bill that must pass Congress, it rewards those who supply donations,” he added.
The H-2B visa-workers are imported by landscapers, forestry companies, seafood processors, construction firms, resorts, hotels and restaurants to import foreign workers for seasonal work. The imported workers are not cheap — see the data here — but their arrival means that employers do not have to raise their wages to persuade Americans to take seasonal jobs.
Moreover, if they raised their wages high enough to attract Americans to the seasonal jobs, then the companies would also have to raise wages for their year-round and supervisory workers.
Those extra wages would reduce company profits, raise costs and reduce the number of customers, and shrink the number of companies. But the extra wages would also leave hundreds of thousands of American voters working in higher-wage jobs, and would also nudge many additional employers to raise wages.
That free-market outcome is anathema to many GOP leaders, including House Majority Leader Paul Ryan. He has repeatedly said that immigration rules should be tuned to help employers — not employees — and that CEOs should be allowed to hire “any willing worker,” even if those workers live far outside the United States.
In 2015, Ryan sharply increased the size of the H-2B program, but after Donald Trump’s shocking victory in 2016, he let the program return to the 66,000 level.
In 2017, Ryan against pushed to expand the program with a 2018-style rule that encouraged legislators to pressure DHS officials for additional visas. Under then-DHS chief John Kelly, the agency reluctantly granted some additional visas, but far fewer than sought by business groups.
In 2018, the Department of Homeland Security has started distributing the 66,000 regular H-2B visas via a lottery because so many companies asked for a share of the H-2B visas.
The H-2B program is dwarfed by the size of the white-collar guest worker programs, via the H-1B, L-1, J-1, H-4, TN, and OPT programs. Collectively, these white-collar outsourcing visas keep more than 1 million foreign university graduates in healthcare, computer, business, and design jobs sought by American graduates.
The existence of the H-2B visa program creates a “crony-capitalist” economy. Companies which win the government-provided workers get to reduce their payroll costs, win more customers and generate more profits. Companies which do not get H-2B workers shrink and lose business. This dynamic forces many companies and labor-brokers to compete for the H-2Bs and to lobby for even more H-2Bs, so generating business donations and endorsements for politicians — at the cost of cutting wages for many Americans.
The program also distorts local economies. For example, in forest towns, the program allows out-of-state forestry contractors to ignore local job-applicants in favor of foreign H-2B workers.