New Visa Worker Program in NAFTA 2.0, Says Mexican Foreign Minister

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U.S. and Mexican negotiators are using the NAFTA 2.0 talks to develop a new visa worker program for Mexicans to work legally in the United States, Mexico’s foreign minister said in a California speech.

“We are even working together, with the White House and other agencies on developing things like a new mechanism for temporary workers in sectors like agriculture,” said Luis Videgaray, the pro-Mexican foreign minister of Mexico. He continued: 

So, those are not finalized, they are part of the conversation but the relationship is not only NAFTA, not only about a wall, it is about many other things and we don’t want differences to allow differences to define the relationship. We will continue to engage.

The target date for the deal is the end of April, he said May 22. The goal is “to have an agreement in principle by the end of the month … We want to do this as quickly as feasible.”

Mexico’s overall goal, he said, is a “thinner border.”

Videgaray offered a very nationalist agenda to his friendly audience in California. “We want, whatever we do in NAFTA, to be good for Mexican workers,” he said. Also, he added, “we will never accept a violation of human rights for Mexican nationals in the US — we will continue to put all our resources on that front.”

Videgaray’s claims were denied by a spokeswoman for Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative who is negotiating the NAFTA 2.0 deal for President Donald Trump. “There are no such pending proposals as part of the NAFTA renegotiations. We’ll refer you to the White House for any additional questions.”

But the NAFTA treaty already includes the growing TN and E-2 visas for white-collar and blue-collar workers.

The number of TN visas “could be approaching 100,000.” according to an October 2017 letter to Lighthizer, by GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Chairman. Citing a State Department visa report, Grassley wrote:

14,768 TN visas were issued in 2016, (along with 9,762 TD visas for spouses and children), another 13,093 were approved in 2015, and 11,207 in 2014, for a total of 39,068 TN visas issued (largely to Mexican workers) in the last three full years. Although Canadian workers are not required to apply for a TN visa, a Canadian news source recently estimated that “30,000 to 40,000” Canadians work in the U.S. in TN status.

A February 2018 report in Breitbart showed top-level agency pressure to prevent cutbacks to the TN visa program. State Department data shows the rise of TN, or “NAFTA Professional” visas rose from 16,000 in 2013 to almost 26,000 in 2017. Each visa lasts for three years, so the resident population of white-collar TN visa workers is roughly 75,000.  

The number of two-year E-2 “specialized worker” visas appears to be growing rapidly. Data provided by the Department of State shows the E Visa program growing from 50,000 arrivals in 2013 up to 63,000 arrivals in 2017. That inflow suggests the program has created a resident E visa population of 127,000. 

The E-2 program is used by foreign-owned companies to place foreign employers into U.S. jobs, often at very low foreign wage rates. For example, a 2016 report showed show a California-based baker imported 11 workers from the Philippines:

The victims said they were lured to work in the US by Analiza Moitinho de Almeida, who had owned the L’Amande bakeries along with her husband, Goncalo. The Filipino nationals entered the US legally with E-2 guest worker visas, then were subjected to harsh conditions shortly after they arrived.

According to court documents, the bakery employees were paid as little as $3 per hour, endured 12-hour or more workdays for extended periods without days off, were made to sleep on floors, and were regularly demeaned and intimidated by the Almeidas.

The resulting legal dispute enriched pro-immigration lawyers, provided residency to the 11 illegal workers — and allows them to import their family members at a huge cost in welfare and aid to American taxpayers.

Also, the influential U.S. agriculture industry wants to expand the H-2A farm-worker program. The inflow of cheap H-2A workers spiked from 77,246 in 2011 up to 165,741 in 2016, up above 200,000 in 2017. Much of the demand comes from agriculture companies in California and Washington state, but dairy companies in Wisconsin, New York and Vermont are also asking for H-2A workers. 

The three visa programs’ combined resident population of 400,000 however, is only a small proportion of the 1.5 million-plus blue-collar and white-collar workers holding jobs in the United States. 

Videgaray’s claim of a back-room push for more cheap-labor migration is a complete rejection of President Donald Trump’ campaign promises, which included his promise of a thick border wall and a low-immigration/high-wage economic strategy.

Videgaray’s claim also clashes with numerous polls showing that almost 90 percent of Americans want U.S.-based companies to hire Americans or legal immigrants before importing more workers. 

However, the push for additional cheap imported workers is strongly backed by U.S. business groups and by progressives.

Many imported low-wage workers become residents and eventually, poor citizens who rationally vote for the Democrats’ diversity and welfare programs. Immigrants also act as consumers, ensuring that the aid and welfare funding for immigrants becomes revenue for a wide variety of businesses and Democratic-aligned non-profit groups.

Under free-trade rules, Mexico’s cheap labor is also good for U.S. companies even when it stays in Mexico. For example, U.S. auto companies, trucking companies, and other service companies can move jobs to lower-wage Mexico, and then quickly sell the products in the higher-wage United States. That two-step process cuts companies’ payroll costs and boosts investors’ returns.

Mexico’s goals are backed by U.S. business and political groups, said Videgaray, who

I am very proud to say that these past 14 months have been a tremendous show of support in many places around the country, and we are very proud of how many voices, important voices, from the business sector, from politics, from social organizations have come in support — not of the Mexican government — but of Mexico and Mexicans and the Mexican community here. And perhaps nowhere else around the country that is as strongly felt as in California.

Following Trump’s election, “now when we visit the [U.S.] Capitol — I visit it very often — we are welcomed and we are given a great access, and everyone is willing to talk to us, and more important, give their support,” he said at 1:19.

 

 

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