Jeremy Beck's picture

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  by  Jeremy Beck

The New York Times' July 1 editorial, "Why Guest Workers Are Easily Exploited," was a belated but welcome criticism of the H-2B visa program from the Gray Lady (See NumbersUSA's H-2B coverage here).

The H-2B visa was created through the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act and signed into law by President Reagan. In 2015, Congress passed a one-year quadrupling of the H-2B visa with little debate or media attention and there is now an effort to make the increase permanent.

From the editorial:

"Employers say they need to import these workers — called H-2B workers after their visa category — because no comparable American workers are available. That claim does not stand up. When labor is scarce, unemployment falls and wages rise. But unemployment is high in all of the top H-2B fields, which include landscaping, groundskeeping, construction, hospitality and seafood processing, while wages in those fields have long been flat or declining.

Even if there were a labor shortage, the H-2B system would not be an acceptable solution. The Government Accountability Office has found that H-2B workers, who typically work for nine-month stints, have been abused; news reports support these findings. These workers are yoked to their employers. If they protest unsafe conditions, wage theft or other mistreatment, they risk dismissal, deportation and financial ruin.

Why would Congress expand the H-2B system? Because businesses that profit from cheap and subservient labor are demanding that it do so."

As many readers noticed, however, the editorial took a curious, confused, and contradictory turn at the end:

"The next, more difficult step, is comprehensive immigration reform."


The last "comprehensive immigration reform" bill - the 2013 Rubio-Schumer "Gang of Eight" - would have expanded the H-2B program. As laid out in Subtitle F: Reforms to the H-2B Visa Program, the legislation could have doubled the size of the H-2B program through the year 2018 (the bill included a 5-year returning worker exemption, as opposed to the 3-year exemption Congress is now considering).

One of the common criticisms at the time was that, at over 1,000 pages, very few people would ever get around to reading the bill.

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

Updated: Thu, Jul 28th 2016 @ 10:30am EDT

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