Expert witnesses told a Senate panel on Wednesday that there is no evidence to support the idea that H-2B visa workers fill in labor shortages for jobs that employers claim "Americans will not do". The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest held the hearing to discuss how the H-2B visa impacts American job opportunities and wages before a likely debate over the issue in Congress this summer.

The H-2B visa is a non-agricultural guest-worker program for low-skilled foreign workers for temporary or seasonal work. The visas are most commonly requested by the hospitality, food service, and landscaping industries.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, opened the hearing by saying, “According to data from the Department of Labor, the total labor force participation rate in the United States last month was approximately 62.6 percent…The statistics make clear that there is simply not a shortage of American workers. Rather, there is a shortage of Americans who are working. “

Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, agreed with Sen. Sessions saying that his analysis of the top 15 fields in which H-2B visas are the most utilized showed that there is no labor shortage and in fact that foreign workers keep wages in these fields low.

“Labor shortages should have (1) rising real wages relative to other occupations, (2) faster-than-average employment growth, and (3) relatively low and declining unemployment rates,” Costa testified before the committee.

He continued, “No credible independent data or labor market metrics have been presented to prove the existence of labor shortages in H2-B occupations. In fact, the available evidence suggests the opposite. Wages in the top H-2B occupations have been flat or declining for over a decade, while unemployment rates in those occupations have been sky high, many at or hovering around double digits. Those are not the indicators of national-level labor shortages.”

Sen. Thom Tilis (R-N.C.) claimed that employers are constantly telling him that they need the visas because they cannot find Americans to fill these temporary positions.

However, another witness at the hearing, Steven Camrota who serves as the Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies, pointed out that, “the idea that there are no Americans willing to do this kind of work is also unsupported by the data. Based on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), there are 950,000 native-born Americans who are landscapers and grounds keepers, and they comprise three- fourths of workers in that occupation. Fifty-one percent of maids are native-born and there are 880,000 of them.”

This hearing was in response to the provision in last years omnibus spending bill, which was scored by NumbersUSA, that excluded returning H-2B visa workers from counting against the annual H-2B visa cap. There is an annual cap of 66,000 for H-2B visas but the omnibus excluded any foreign workers who held an H-2B visa in the last 3 fiscal years from being counted against the cap. This quadrupled the potential number of H-2B visas from 66,000 to 264,000. Several lawmakers in both the House and Senate are looking to make the increase permanent in this year's spending bills.

Sen. Sessions point out that the Congressional Budget Office did an analysis on the provision, under a request from Speaker Ryan’s office, and stated that the provision would “result in only about 8,000 additional workers this Fiscal Year – due to the fact that it took effect so late in the year, among other things”. Yet, according to the USCIS as of May 12, 2016 the annual cap had already been reached and they had already approved 12,727 returning H-2B visa applications and had 1,171 still pending approval.

“There are many other problems with the H-2B program, but the simple fact of the matter is that the H-2B program, like so many of our other immigration programs, does not serve the national interest. Our focus needs to be on getting Americans back to work – not on seeing how many foreign workers we can bring to the United States,” Sen. Sessions said.

Read more on this story at The Daily Caller.

You can view the entire Senate hearing here.

Legal Immigration
Low-skilled Americans
H-2B visas

Updated: Mon, Jul 24th 2017 @ 3:15pm EDT