A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that there is no evidence of a labor shortage to support the recent H-2B visa increase. DHS Secretary John Kelly announced this week that he will use the authority granted by Congress to approve an additional 15,000 H-2B visas over the annual 66,000 cap.
In the latest omnibus spending bill, Congress granted DHS the authority to increase H-2B visas up to 130,000 if Secretary Kelly, after consulting with the Dept. of Labor, determines that “the needs of American businesses cannot be satisfied in fiscal year 2017 with United States workers who are willing, qualified, and able to perform temporary nonagricultural labor.” If not, then DHS “may increase the total number of aliens who may receive a visa” in the H-2B program.
According to the EPI report, “despite the fact that the unemployment rate has now reached pre-Great Recession levels, many other labor market indicators signal an economy that still has some way to go before genuine full employment is attained”.
The report looks at wages and unemployment levels, specifically in the top 10 H-2B occupations, to determine that there is not enough evidence to support an overall national labor shortage.
According to the report, nationwide wages in all occupations have only increased 5.49% or $1.23 between 2004-2016. Wages in the top 10 H-2B occupations have been stagnant, growing less than one-half of 1% annually.
The “Waiters and Waitresses” H-2B occupational category is the only one to see faster-than-average wage growth at 1.57% a year over the 12-year period from 2004 to 2016.
The study does note that there has been a slight increase in wage growth from 2014-2016, but that, “heeding calls to raise the H-2B cap to stem the upward pressure of 2014–2016 would essentially be stomping out the only encouraging sign of wage growth these workers have seen over the past decade”.
The report shows that all but one of the top 10 H-2B occupations had high unemployment rates during the 2004–2005 and 2006–2007 periods. However, overall unemployment rates did decline in all but one of the top 10 H-2B occupations between 2004 and 2016.
In 2015-2016 the unemployment rates in all of the top 10 H-2B occupations were above the national average of 4.9%. Seven of the 10 occupations had very high unemployment rates of between of 7.78% and 10.64%.
“The fact that, from 2004 to 2016, wages were stagnant or declined in nine of the top 10 H-2B occupations…combined with persistently high unemployment rates over the same period, makes it highly unlikely that labor shortages exist at the national level in the top H-2B occupations,” the report reads.
The report concludes that, “given these realities, DHS’s fiscal 2017 expansion—by 15,000 visas—of a program as flawed as the H-2B program is ill-advised.”
Read the full report at epi.org.
Updated: Tue, Aug 1st 2017 @ 4:35pm EDT