Stuart Anderson, who runs the “policy research” qua lobbying organization National Foundation for American Policy, and who has been calling for more H-1Bs for decades, claimed last week that the only thing holding back American grads from working in STEM occupations and earning higher pay was there are not enough H-1B guest workers coming to take jobs in STEM occupation. Because, you see, domestic workers and foreign workers who are competing for the same jobs aren't really in competition. Having to train one's foreign replacement is all a figment of the displaced American workers' imagination, and no matter what the data actually says about H-1B wages, Anderson assures us "H-1B visa holders do not adversely affect U.S. workers.” His arguments are fantastical, of course, but they do go over well in Silicon Valley.
Also last week, a Lincoln, Nebraska paper ran a story on a “comprehensive study” by the University of Nebraska’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources that found what Nebraskans want is “more foreigners willing to work in Nebraska's unfilled jobs.” The study turned out to be agricultural lobbyists interviewing each other about a “worker shortage” in the state’s agricultural and meat processing industries. What the study, and reporting on its "findings," neglected to mention was that the meatpacking industry, particularly in Nebraska, has used foreign labor, oftentimes illegal aliens, to drive down costs and prevent its employees from organizing for better pay and working conditions.
If one follows reports in the corporate media one will hear that the United States is facing an acute shortage of computer programmers and landscapers, medical professionals and line cooks. It seems there isn't one job in the United States that Americans are willing to do, or capable of doing as well as, and certainly not better than, someone outside the United States would do if only allowed in.
As mendacious are these claims are, and transparently so, they do seem to convince some politicians. The House Democrats passed a bill on May 15 that would have expedited green cards for foreign health workers --at a time when American health workers are experiencing major lay-offs –- and granted temporary (wink, nod) amnesty to illegal aliens working in “critical infrastructure” occupations.
In the Senate, legislation was introduced to bring in 15,000 more foreign doctors and 25,000 more nurses, despite there being no need to do so. A group of Republican Senators led by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) just this week wrote a letter to President Trump imploring him not to temporarily halt new guest workers coming into the United States, at the same time they acknowledged that tens of millions are out of work. They write "Americans may not be qualified or able to perform jobs such as landscaping, building cleaning and maintenance, food service, seafood processing, and retail jobs in resort areas."
That's simply not true.
On Wednesday, Steven Camarota, Director of Research for the Center for Immigration Studies, published his analysis of April’s unemployment numbers in The Washington Times. Camarota pointed out that unemployment rates are very high in those very occupation which Senator Graham and his colleagues say can’t be filled with existing domestic workers, indicating that there are many sidelined workers able to fill those jobs. Remember, to be listed as unemployed in an occupation, one had to have been working in that occupation before being laid off. Contrary to what Sen. Graham, et. al., wrote in their letter to President Trump, there are workers available and able to perform the jobs they wish to reserve for new foreign guest workers.
Among the top occupations filled by H-2B workers, a visa program the Trump administration recently expanded, the April data show that unemployment was 18 percent for landscapers and trimmers, 37 percent for maids, 21 percent for construction laborers, 9 percent for meat and food processing workers, and 35 percent for cooks and chefs.
In addition to H-2B (seasonal non-ag), there are H-1B (tech), H-2A (seasonal ag), H-4 (spouses of H-1Bs given work authorization), J-1 ("work-study"), L-1 (intracompany transfer) guest worker programs. There is OPT (optional practical training), which allows foreign students to work in the U.S. for up to three years despite Congress never having authorized the program. There is also the E-B5 visa, which essentially allows wealthy foreign nationals (mainly Chinese) to purchase green cards.
All of these programs will proceed as normal unless President Trump takes action.
Here is a chart showing LPR (immigrant) admissions and the major guest worker programs, along with F-1 student admission. Some of these F-1 students are allowed to remain and work in the U.S. under OPT. That number is shown in the chart below. While not every LPR admitted is of working-age, every LPR does receive a lifetime work permit. For the number of working-age LPR's admitted 2000-2018 see here. EB-5s are included in the LPR numbers. That category averages just under 10,000 per year.
Several things to note about the chart. Many guest workers are here temporarily, though a good proportion use a temporary non-immigrant visa as a conduit to permanent residency. And the term of some guest worker visas spans several years. For example, the H-1B visa term is for three years, which can be renewed for another three, and that can be extended even longer if an employer then sponsors an H-1B visa holder for a green card. That’s why despite the annual “cap” of 85,000 H-1B workers, there are about 750,000 currently in the United States. Altogether, there are about 1.5 million guest workers currently in the country.
The main takeaway is that in addition to the admission of over a million immigrants a year the United States is also bringing in hundreds of thousands of guest workers, every year.
That doesn’t change no matter the economic circumstances or labor market conditions. There is always a “worker shortage” according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the newsplainers at Vox, Bill Gates, Lindsey Graham, etc.
Part of lobbying we are seeing for more foreign workers is the routine call for ever-increasing levels of immigration from interest groups who benefit from mass immigration. What accounts for a new sense of desperation on the part of those making these arguments is that the need for an immediate suspension of foreign workers coming into the United States has become obvious, and it brings into sharp focus just how “broken” the immigration system is, even in relatively good economic times. There is fear among expansionists that common sense, and common decency, may finally win out.
The problem with the U.S. labor market is not one of supply. There are more than enough workers already in the United States. The problem is one of demand. Too many employers have become dependent on an immigration program run by the federal government designed to provide them lower-wage, more complaint (in some cases readily exploitable) foreign workers. They demand this continue, even with 40 million in the U.S. out of work and the long-term effects of the shutdown yet to be determined.
Can there be any better demonstration that the business lobby’s demand for more foreign workers has nothing to do with the need for more foreign workers?
ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, Jun 11th 2020 @ 11:30pm EDT