DHS Chad Wolf: Extra H-2B Work Visas Coming Soon

SAN RAFAEL, CA - MAY 23: Illegal immigrants Misael Amrocio (L) and Jose Augustine, both of Guatemala, layout a flagstone patio while working on a landscaping job May 23, 2007 in San Rafael, California. Both Misael and Jose came to the United States from Guatemala and are currently living and …
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Chad Wolf, the acting chief of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told the Senate on Tuesday that he is talking with the Secretary of Labor to decide how many extra H-2B visa workers they will provide to employers in 2020.

Breitbart News has reported that officials plan to import up to 45,000 extra visa workers during the year. The extra workers will allow seasonal companies — such as landscapers, foresters, as well as resorts and hotels — to fill their jobs without raising employees’ wages and customers’ prices. The expansion will help the companies, but it will reduce President Donald Trump’s “Blue Collar Boom” before the run-up to the 2020 election.

“I will say, as of right now, no decision has been made about the supplemental H-1B cap increase,” Chad Wolf told a Senate hearing on February 25, adding:

I will say I’ve talked with Secretary [Eugene] Scalia at the Department of Labor, six times over the past three or four weeks, coming up with a solution. We have to announce that very shortly and will continue to push that decision.

What I will say, it’s not only a number but it’s also looking at the fraud and the abuse in the program, which the Department of Homeland Security is certainly concerned about. So if we do reach out and increase, you’ll also see a number of provisions in there that get to that waste, abuse, and the fraud that, I believe, members of Congress on a bipartisan basis have expressed concern with as well.

Wolf’s comment about fraud and abuse comes amid a new controversy about the use of imported H-2B workers to build a natural gas refinery instead of hiring Americans. Each year, employers use the program to bring in 66,000 foreign workers — some of whom who can stay for up to three years — and Congress prods DHS to add at least 15,000 extra visas each year.

The expansion is drawing criticism from populists; “President Trump’s rhetoric is aimed at the heart of the American worker, but his policies have delivered one gut punch after another,” said an op-ed in the populist website, American Greatness. “Now three administration officials have confirmed plans to invite 45,000 seasonal guest workers this summer under the H-2B visa program—the most since Trump sailed into the White House on a working-class wave.”

The H-2B program is one of many programs that allow companies to import roughly 1.5 million white-collar and 500,000 agriculture and blue-collar contract workers in jobs that otherwise would have to be performed by Americans and machines. The blue-collar workers are imported via the H-2A, H-2B, and J-1 visa worker programs.

Wolf urged senators to vote for the extra workers, even though senators have repeatedly given the unpopular task to DHS officials for the prior three years:

I again would urge Congress: You’re in the best position to identify how many visas that program needs. For the fourth year in the row, the department’s been given that duty to coordinate with the Secretary of Labor. We’ve been doing that. But again, I would encourage Congress to pick the overall number for the H-2B program.

In the last three years, DHS officials have agreed to raise the number of workers by at least 15,000 visas each year after Congress refused to set the numbers itself.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) rejected Wolf’s suggestion that she vote for an increase, saying:

Well, I can tell you I’ve been on multiple letters that are bipartisan, saying you need to increase that cap and pointing out past years when the cap has been increased and how effectively the [visas] have been used. So I don’t think the problem is Congress. I think the problem is at the administration level. And if it’s not your department who needs to make that decision, then you need to tell us who is making that decision because I’ve got a whole bunch of small businesses in New Hampshire who aren’t gonna be able to do their business this summer if they don’t have those workers.

Wolf — who was a lobbyist for the Indian NASSCOM outsourcing group — quickly agreed with Shaheen. “I share your sense of urgency, Senator … I’m pushing as quickly as we can to make a decision and then hopefully announced that decision before any rulemaking is finalized so that the industry knows how many pieces to work with and can again plan their businesses accordingly.”

GOP Jim Lankford also demanded more visas:

I know you’ve mentioned already that Congress is the best to be able to set that number. Congress has said “Hey work with the Department of Labor and see what we need at this point.” And you have the opportunity to go up to twice as many as you’ve done in the past … [so] do that as quickly as possible. If that stretches out into June and July … that’s too late for the season.

The expected visas will be awarded via lottery to companies, mostly landscaping companies, said Jessica Vaughan, policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies. But, she added, “they should be given out according to which employers pay the most. If you are going to argue there is an economic benefit [of the viss] to the United States, we should be prioritizing the highest-value employees.”

Federal measures against H-2B abuse and fraud are likely to fail, she said, partly because Congress is unlikely to approve the needed funding for investigations and enforcement.

The existence of the visa programs creates demand for cheap labor, she said. Instead of finding alternative business ideas, unemployed Americans, or investing in labor-saving machines, then the hiring companies and their labor brokers spend their time developing new ways to get the cheaper H-2B workers they want, she said.

“The real problem with these visas is that they are not necessary — they are completely superfluous in an economy of 165 million workers, where we do not have a labor shortage for anything,” she said. “There are millions of Americans who are able to take those jobs — we do not have a shortage of people who can do jobs that do not require higher education.”

“If you build a visa program, the fraud will come – and that is true of every visa program.”

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