DHS Nielsen Endorses More H-2B Visa Workers

H-2B
AP/Andrew Harnik

Homeland secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told House legislators that the H-2B visa-worker program puts corporate priorities ahead of employees, and also suggested she will soon provide extra visas for companies to hire foreign workers.

“The concept of limitations on H-2B [visas] originally were to protect American workers,” she told a House appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday. “If, however, we are in a situation where the way in which we administer the program, legally, actually puts American businesses out of business, that clearly is not the intent.”

“The intent is to make a decision soon so that those who can take advantage of the [H-2B] program are able to do that,” she said. 

“Of course — the idea of the guest-worker programs is to put employers ahead of employees,” responded Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “All guest-worker programs represent a thumb on the scales on behalf of employers, and against workers.”

Nielsen told GOP Rep. Scott Taylor that she will meet with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on Wednesday, and will decide on a decision timeline by Friday. Taylor’s district includes a long stretch of Virginia coastline and many employers who hire H-2B and J-1 visa-workers for the summer. 

Nielsen’s comments to legislators suggested that she will quickly approve an expansion of the H-2B guest worker program above the law’s 66,000 annual limit, despite President Donald Trump’s inauguration day promise of “Buy American, hire American.”

Nielsen’s ability to expand the H-2B program is a gift to business provided in the 2018 omnibus by retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The 2018 omnibus — like the 2017 omnibus — did not require legislators to vote for expanding the unpopular program. Instead, it allowed DHS to raise the caps.

That maneuver ensures business groups can lobby DHS for extra H-2B foreign-workers, instead of raising wages to attract the young and healthy Americans who may want to do seasonal work for most of the year. The wages paid to H-2B workers are often considered good — sometimes $13 an hour. But the imported H-2B workers are cheaper than paying the higher wages needed to attract many Americans away from permanent jobs into lower-status seasonal work, such as landscaping or food preparation.

Ryan’s omnibus also encourages legislators to lobby Nielsen to get more H-2B workers for employers in their districts. That pressure was applied Wednesday by at least three GOP legislators on the appropriations committee, which has the power to gut or approve Nielsen’s top priorities. For example, despite getting extra H-2B visas in 2017, the legislators in the appropriations committee refused to fund Nielsen’s top-priority requests for a border wall, extra detention beds, and more enforcement personnel.

Nielson’s apparent promise of more foreign workers is also a problem for Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, who got Nielsen into the DHS job.

In July 2017, Kelly bent to pressure from Congress and business by reluctantly agreeing to a 15,000-visa expansion of the H-2B program, saying “DHS is providing this one-time increase to the congressionally set annual cap.”

“Her boss, her mentor, said that the [2017] increase permitted was a one-time event, so is she going to make her boss a liar?” asked Krikorian.

Instead of Nielsen negating Kelly’s 2017 “one-time increase” statement, Krikorian said, “an appropriate response for her is to say [to Congress]; ‘I’m sorry, you can’t pass the buck to me. You vote [for an H-2B increase] and then we’ll carry it out.’”

The 2018 push for the H-2B program also rejects Trump’s 2016 campaign promise to reform the nation’s immigration laws to favor Americans instead of companies and foreign workers. That rejection by the GOP’s business-first wing is a political risk for the GOP because the November election is only eight months away, and voters’ wages still have shown little gain in the good economy.

The minimal gains, in part, are ensured by the reality that business can simply import more workers whenever an expanding economy runs short of workers and wages start rising. For example, business is working with progressives – and some Republicans — to demand an amnesty for the 800,000 ‘DACA’ recipients.

Four million Americans turn 18 each year and begin looking for good jobs in the free market.

But the federal government inflates the supply of new labor by annually accepting roughly 1.1 million new legal immigrants, by providing “Employment Authorization Documents” to at least 2 million resident foreigners, and by providing work visas to a population of at least 1.5 million visa-workers, including roughly 600,000 white-collar H-1B workers The federal government also does little to block the employment of roughly 8 million illegal immigrants.

Regardless of size, the H-2B and other guest-worker programs will always skew the playing field in favor of employers, said Krikorian. He said:

If you have guest-worker programs with limits, some businesses are going to game the system better than others, and the ones that aren’t successful in gaming the guest-worker program will suffer because they have to compete for American workers, which may well cost them more money and more time.

The solution is to have a level playing field so everyone in the landscaping or hospitality industry faces the same labor challenges. Some will fail because they won’t do a good job, but without access to these foreign captive workers, business will have to focus their ingenuity in developing ways of finding and recruiting Ameican workers instead of using their ingenuity to get Congress to vote the way they want. 

The H-2B program does not provide any prioritization schedule or cost-benefit calculations to guide the distribution of the 66,000 H-2B visas. This means that a landscaping company in Alexandria, Va., a restaurant in Cape Cod, or a ski operator in Vail, Colorado, all have the same priority as a shrimp-boat operator in the Gulf of Mexico or a crab-processor in the Chesapeake Bay.

This lack of prioritization also means that many companies must fight to get H-2B workers in case their nearby rivals use government-provided H-2Bs to push them out of business.

Federal officials also do not gauge the impact of the H-2B program on communities, such as towns in national forests

In her testimony, Nielsen said:

The concept of limitations on H-2B originally were to protect American workers. If, however, we are in a situation where the way in which we administer the program, legally, actually puts American businesses out of business, that clearly is not the intent.

So what I would ask is two things.

First, in response to your first question, I will be consulting with Secretary Acosta the next few days here, as required by the law. We will, we would like to get some additional input from some other constituencies. I’d be happy to discuss this with you further, but the intent is to make a decision soon so that those who can take advantage of the program are able to do that.

But my request is that we work together this next year. Congress, really, in my opinion, is best situated, given your constituencies and your understanding of the employers in your districts, to know the right number of H-2B [visas]. Very difficult when the discretion gets kicked back to the Secretary of Homeland Security. It just is. So I’d like to work on this [in the] next [budget] cycle in a way where Congress decides the number. We will implement the number that you provide, but it is very difficult for us to get all of the information that we need to do that.

The third thing — I know I said there were only two, but let me add one more — the seasonal way in which we split up these visas does not work, and that is what you are describing. So as we look at this program again, we need to make sure that it is meeting the intent of the program which is to allow employers to provide H-2B [visas to workers]. If the timelines were such that it is past the season, if it is past their ability to utilize them, we’re not meeting the purpose so I’d like to ask you to work with me on that.

The Washington-imposed economic policy of economic growth via mass-immigration shifts wealth from young people towards older people, it floods the market with foreign laborspikes profits and Wall Street values by cutting salaries for manual and skilled labor offered by blue-collar and white-collar employees. It also drives up real estate priceswidens wealth-gaps, reduces high-tech investment, increases state and local tax burdens, hurts kids’ schools and college education, pushes Americans away from high-tech careers, and sidelines at least 5 million marginalized Americans and their families, including many who are now struggling with opioid addictions.

To read more about the economic impact of H-2B visas, click here

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