Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

Politico buried the lede:

"Businesses that use foreign workers, worried they’ll get singled out by federal agents during a visa review, are starting to explore the possibility of recruiting domestic labor."

Among the persistent immigration myths are (1) foreign workers do jobs Americans won't do; and (2) businesses can only hire guest workers if there are no available citizens or legal permanent residents to fill the job.

If either of those were true, the businesses Politico refers to wouldn't be starting the process of possibly looking for domestic workers.

When lobbying for more guest workers (there is an alphabet soup of work visa programs), corporations always claim that they need foreign workers because they can't find anyone in the United States to fill the jobs (google "H-2B shortage" or "H-1B shortage" and you'll see a list of recent stories). The best way to not find anyone is not to look in the first place.

Of course, the majority of workers in all U.S. industries are born in the United States, so Politico surely exaggerates when it implies that businesses aren't already hiring domestically.

Nevertheless, this is further evidence that the rise of guest workers programs has damaged the domestic recruitment pipeline.

We were warned.

In 1978, Congress established the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy to study (among other things) the idea of expanding guest worker programs. The commission rejected the idea and its chair, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, explained:

"A large program would build a dependency on foreign labor in certain sectors of the economy."

Congress created another commission in 1990, this one chaired by Barbara Jordan, which also rejected expanded guest worker programs on the grounds that they depressed wages, particularly for "unskilled American workers, including recent immigrants who may have originally entered to perform needed labor but who can be displaced by newly entering guestworkers."

Since that time, the number of guest worker visas issued annually has more than doubled from about 400,000 in the mid-ninteis to over one million per year by the middle of this decade.

In 2015, with little media attention, the House Republican leadership slipped a one-year expansion of the H-2B visa into the omnibus bill. A similar effort is under way right now. Proponents are once again painting the H-2B program as a critical tool for small businesses who desperately want to hire Americans but can't find any who want to work. In fact, the H-2B program has proven to be a means by which large employers bypass domestic workers in favor of foreign workers who are more easily controlled and exploited.

There may be some niche businesses that truly need a temporary solution to staffing problems, but as the Politico excerpt illustrates, the guest-worker solution has become part of the domestic hiring problem. Once the federal government makes it easy for a business to apply for a discounted worker whose visa is connected to the employer, that business is likely to invest less time, energy and innovation into recruiting American workers who could leave anytime they decide the pay or working conditions aren't up to American standards.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Program for NumbersUSA

H-2B visas
Low-skilled Americans

Updated: Mon, Jul 24th 2017 @ 3:21pm EDT

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