Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

The left-leaning BuzzFeed News and right-leaning Breitbart News are producing essential reporting about the little-known world of nonimmigrant guest worker programs.

There is a virtual alphabet soup of guest worker visas. BuzzFeed and Breitbart focus on the H visas: H-1B (professional workers), H-2A (agricultural workers), and H-2B (seasonal, non-agricultural workers).

If you're still reading after "H-1B", "H-2A", and "H-2B", congratulations. Many people would have stopped by now and who can blame them? The names for the numerous visa categories alone discourage public inquiry -- and given how well the lack of public and media interest has worked out for the businesses that have shaped and profited from the guest worker programs, that may well be the point.

Happily, Ken Bensinger, Jessica Garrison, and Jeremy Singer-Vine of BuzzFeed and Neil Munro of Breitbart make for easy reading. From "The Coyote":

"Overshadowed by the larger immigration debate, the H-2 program is virtually unknown to the general public. But one major constituency champions it: American business, which prizes the steady supply of cheap and pliant labor. The entire program, from its expansive reach to its weak regulation, has been shaped by the businesses that benefit from it."

The "coyote" in the headline isn't a Mexican or Central-American smuggler but an American businessman, Stan Eury, who built an empire by using the H-2A and H-2B visa programs to supply clients with all of the cheap foreign workers they desired. And then some. Eury's enterprises largely work within the legal confines of the convoluted law; occasionally not. He is currently serving time after pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. The U.S. Department of Labor, however, continues to approve visas for Eury's flagship enterprise, The North Carolina Growers Association, the largest supplier of H-2 workers in the United States. Yay!

The H-2 visa program was revived by the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (yes, that 1986 bill) to give employers a pipeline to legal foreign workers as an alternative to hiring future illegal aliens. The political argument was that employers wouldn't seek out illegal workers if they had a legal pipeline. In the end, they got both. Approximately 8 million, mostly non-farm jobs are held by illegal workers today, and 700,000 guest-worker visas (all categories) are issued every year on top of the 1 million permanent work permits issued by the federal government. H-2 workers pick crops, cut Christmas trees, maintain golf courses, clean hotel rooms, and fill numerous other jobs that make life more pleasant for Americans. They are also, BuzzFeed's investigative series shows, quite frequently exploited.

Industries could hire qualified American workers (including legal immigrants and their grown children) who need the work, but Americans have a reputation of making certain demands about working conditions, overtime pay, etc.  Who needs that hassle? Instead, employers bypass capable workers in their own communities for less-expensive, more compliant foreign workers (employers hold the visa, not the workers - complaining can lead to deportation). The mainstream media does not consider this news.

The H-1B visa receives more media attention than its H-2 counterparts.  Until last year, virtually all stories were written from the perspective of those who benefitted from the program and wanted it expanded. Then the Disney scandal caught the MSM's imagination in ways that previous H-1B-displacement stories did not. Stories about American tech workers being forced to train their foreign replacements (in the Magic Kingdom of all places!) shocked the public and changed the conventional wisdom inside the beltway press, where the H-1B program had been viewed as an underutilized and unadulterated good. Few in the public had ever heard of an "H-1B" until the Disney story broke through the MSM firewall, but Neil Munro of Breitbart says despite paying closer attention, the national media has been "duped" about the size of the H-1B program. From "Industry, Universities, Hide Workforce of 100,000 Extra Foreign White-Collar H-1B Employees":

"The media almost universally reports that the federal government has set a 65,000 or 85,000 annual cap on the annual number of incoming H-1B white-collar professionals.
"Here’s the secret -- the H-1B visas given to university hires don’t count against the 85,000 annual cap, according to a 2006 memo approved by George W. Bush’s administration.

The government virtually rubber-stamps H-1B requests from universities. Corporations get around the H-1B cap by affiliating themselves with universities and using them as pseudo-staffing agnecies. Importantly, "The universities have zero legal obligation to recruit Americans" for those jobs.

The numbers add up. Between 15,000 and 20,000 H-1B visas are issued every year through the university exemption. H-1B workers often stay in the U.S. six years or longer. (In)conveniently, the government doesn't track the total number of H-1Bs currently in the U.S. but Munro cites government reports to estimate there are at least 100,000 currently working who did not count toward the cap:

"These white-collar guest-workers are the fastest-growing portion of the nation’s unrecognized workforce of roughly 1.25 million foreign college-grade temporary-workers..."

The 65,000 (or 85,000) cap on H-1Bs that the mainstream media acknowledges is just a small piece of the expansive network of guest worker programs that operate largely outside of the public consciousness. Munro, Garrison, Bensinger, and Singer-Vine give readers a sense of the actual size and scope of these programs. That's a critical step toward an informed electorate and a constructive debate.

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

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Updated: Mon, Jul 24th 2017 @ 3:25pm EDT

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