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Expansion of H-2B Work Visa Program Hits DHS Roadblock

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The Department of Homeland Security is not rushing to provide U.S. companies with 70,000 extra cheap-labor visas for foreign workers, says an agency official.

The 2017 omnibus funding law directs the agency to provide up to 70,000 extra H-2B visas for foreign lower-cost blue-collar workers — but the funding law does not set any deadline for the agency to create a process to consider granting the extra visas, says an agency spokesman. “There is nothing [in the law] that gives us a deadline,” spokesman David Lapan told Breitbart News.

If he declines to quickly approve the visas, DHS “Secretary [John] Kelly is going to come under intense lobbying pressure both from industry lobbying groups and from the congressional legislators themselves who were too gutless to make the increase” part of the funding law, warned Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies. He continued:

I hope he can resist [and] I hope he tells them to go pound sand … but some of that may depend on what signals he’s getting from the White House, and I have no idea what those signals are. It could be the signal is ‘You decide,’ or they may informally express their strong interest in his pulling the trigger on this increase.

Massachusetts’ Democratic Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., told the Cape Cod Times that he will pressure Kelly to approve more foreign workers. “Every day is critical” for the tourism business in his district, Keating said. GOP Sen. Thom Tillis and Democratic Sen. Angus King are also expected to push Kelly for rapid approval of the replacement workers.

The lack of a legal deadline for DHS and the labor department is important because most seasonal jobs expire once winter arrives, leaving the companies with little hope of getting the visas and workers approved, hired and imported before the workers have to be exported home in late 2017.

The H-2B visas are used by seasonal companies to import spring, summer and fall workers for various jobs in landscaping tasks, resorts, restaurants, resorts, theme parks, fish processing companies. However, some foreigners are hired for winter jobs in U.S. ski resorts.

The long-standing H-2B law says companies can ask for a total of 66,000 H-2B visas each year. In the April omnibus bill, Congress added language that allows companies to get perhaps 70,000 extra visas above the supposed cap of 66,000 H-2B visas per year. 

The contract-worker visas allow companies to hire foreign workers for seasonal jobs at wages lower than sought by Americans who prefer year-round jobs. Generally, Americans want higher wages for jobs that leave them unemployed in winter, especially if they have also to move away from the social support networks in their home towns.

By reducing pay to seasonal workers, the H-2B visa program also allows companies to reduce wages for their year-round employees. The visa program also reduces business pressure on schools and politicians for long-delayed reforms that would help young Americans train for skilled manual labor. The current lack of focus on vocational training reflects the view by many education officials that skilled blue-collar jobs should have less prestige than even unproductive white-collar jobs.

In 2016, Donald Trump won the presidency by backing a low-immigration, high-wage economy, and told the world in January 2017 that his policy would be to “Buy American, Hire American.” 

Other politicians, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and Arkansas GOP Sen. Top Cotton, know the visas are unpopular with voters.

In December 2016, shortly after the Trump won the election, House Speaker Paul Ryan rolled back his December 2015 agreement to quadruple the size of the H-2B program up to 264,000 visas per year. 

This April, under renewed pressure from local business groups, GOP and Democratic legislators expanded the H-2B program — but passed the burden to the departments of homeland security and labor.

The new law says the Secretaries of DHS and the Department of Labor should hand out extra visas “upon [a] determination 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.”

But the process required to implement the H-2B provision does not yet exist, leaving companies with the difficult task of persuading Trump’s agencies to increase the inflow of foreign workers for many jobs that could be taken by Americans. “There is no timeline to it,” said Lapan, whose agency helps companies annually import roughly 1 million other seasonal or multi-year contract-workers, via the J-1, H-1B, O and L visas, plus the Optional Practical Training program.

The H-2B visas are distributed without case-by-case studies of each industry’s ability to hire Americans at market wages. For example, many visas are given to landscaping companies operating in urban and suburban neighborhoods, while other industries, such as the seasonal seafood industry, say they have a much greater problem hiring Americans for isolated, tough and risky summer-only work.

Each year, four million young Americans enter the workforce. Each year, the federal government imports roughly 1 million contract-workers plus 1 million new legal immigrants to compete for the jobs sought by young Americans. The huge annual inflow of new labor has pushed millions of Americans out of the workforce and towards opioid addiction, transfers roughly $500 billion each year from employees to employers and investors, drives up real-estate costs, and reduces the incentive for employers to invest in labor-saving machinery.


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