There’s been a decades-long drop in wages paid to American workers facing competition from foreign guest-workers on H-2B visas, belying claims of a shortage of U.S. workers, according to Steven Camarota, at the Center for Immigration Studies.
“Real wages, adjusted for inflation, for workers with no more than a high school education are down 10, 20 percent since the 1970s, and even recent trends show no recovery,” Camarota, CIS’ research director, told the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest on Wednesday.
“If there really was a labor shortage, wages should be rising rapidly, as employers drive up wages and bid them up in a desperate attempt to retain and attract new workers,” he said.
He was testifying before hearing examining the impact of the H-2B visa program on American workers. The program allows U.S. employers to annually hire up to 66,000 low-skilled temporary foreign workers for almost a year. The workers are mostly used for landscaping, restaurants and resorts. Some H-2B workers can get extensions to work for longer, and in 2015, Congress allowed many prior-year H-2B workers to get visas above the annual limit.
According to Camarota, wages in H-2B occupations have been on the decline, while occupations that are truly experiencing labor shortages have seen corresponding wage increases.
“So if there really is a shortage there should be a wage increase.” he said. “In the absence of that evidence, then it really seems like what the employer wants to do is keep wages down — perfectly understandable — but the question is should Congress be complicit in that desire.”
Camarota also pushed back against the claim that H-2B visa workers are filling jobs Americans will not do. He called such assertions “absurd,” and highlighted U.S. Census Bureau data showing that many Americans already work in H-2B visa occupations.
Specifically, Camarota said, nearly a million native-born Americans are landscapers, comprising three-fourths of the occupation’s workers. Another 51 percent of maids, nearly 900,000, are native-born, two-thirds of construction workers (1.3 million) are native-born, and 70 percent of cooks (1.8 million) are native-born.
“Right now there are more than 30 million native-born Americans and immigrants already here, who have no education beyond high school, and are not working,” he said. “Even if only half of these individuals want to want and can do so, it still represents a huge supply of potential less-educated or unskilled labor.”