Rules requiring U.S. employers to hire Americans workers before looking abroad for low-skilled temporary labor are insufficient and unenforced, an Economic Policy Institute researcher testified Wednesday before a Senate panel.
“No credible independent data or labor market metrics have been presented to prove the existence of labor shortages in H-2B occupations,” Daniel Costa, the Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research for EPI, told the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest. “In fact, the available evidence suggests the opposite,” he said.
He was testifying at a hearing on the H-2B program, which usually 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 jobs above the annual limit.
The program is justified to alleviate labor shortages, but the evidence suggests that many H-2B occupations are not experiencing any labor shortages at all, Costa said. “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,” he said. “Those are not the indicators of national-level labor shortages.”
There might be localized labor shortages, Costa argued that the persistently high national unemployment levels suggests that such employers can find low-skilled workers to meet their needs within U.S. borders.
“While some advocates argue that employers are already required to recruit U.S. workers and pay the prevailing wage, it is obvious to any rational and disinterested person that the rules requiring that employers [first] recruit U.S. workers are inadequate and, at present, not even enforced at all,” Costa said.