Homeland Secretary John Kelly has not made a decision to expand the H-2B cheap-labor visa program, and his deputies have not even met with counterparts at the Department of Labor to begin the expansion process, says an agency spokesman.
“He has not yet made any determination,” said spokesman David Lapan, adding that “there is no timeline.”
Lapan’s comments suggest that Kelly has reversed his initial support for an expansion of the H-2B program, and is now looking for a P.R. strategy that allows him to deflect pressure from legislators and lobbyists who want an expansion.
On May 25, Kelly told Senators on the committee which controls the DHS budget that “I’ll have my staff when they return from [the Department of ] Labor and we get some protocols in place, we’ll likely increase the numbers for this year, perhaps not by the entire number that I’m authorized.”
When asked by Breitbart if Kelly has since flipped against the unpopular expansion, Lapan responded by saying “we didn’t back off … [during the hearing] he acknowledged that his inclination would be to increase, but we as a department have not made that decision.”
The H-2B program allows companies to import 66,000 new blue-collar workers for seasonal jobs each year. GOP leader greatly expanded the program in 2015, but cut it back in 2016 once President Donald Trump won the election in November on a pro-American platform.
Company owners say the foreign workers are needed because Americans will not do seasonal jobs and because there is a shortage of some skilled workers, such as bricklayers. Critics of the program say it reduces wages for both full-time and seasonal American workers, it reduces pressure on companies to find and recruit marginalized U.S. workers, and it reduces the political pressure on companies and schools to train young Americans for blue-collar skills, such as bricklaying.
Critics of the program say it reduces nationwide wages for both full-time and seasonal American workers, it reduces pressure on companies to find and recruit marginalized U.S. workers, and it reduces the political pressure on companies and schools to train enough young Americans for blue-collar skills, such as bricklaying. Any expansion of the unpopular program would also contradict President Donald Trump’s inauguration day promise to “Buy American, Hire American,” say critics.
Just like the white-collar H-1B visa program, the H-2B program is unpopular with the public, but lobbyists constantly pressure legislators to increase the annual inflow of foreign workers.
In May, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other legislators passed the buck to Kelly, by adding language in the May budget supplemental which allows the DHS secretary to expand H-2B by roughly 70,000 new workers each year. Lobbyists are now pressuring Kelly to quickly and quietly expand the program via low-profile regulatory changes so that foreign workers can be hired and rushed into jobs later this summer, fall and winter.
Lapan’s evasive comment suggests Kelly does not want to be Ryan’s fall-guy and is trying to dodge the issue without angering the politicians who control his agency’s budget.
The May budget language does not direct agency officials to expand the program by 5,000 or 10,000 visas, Lapan told reporters. “It was not Congress adding to the cap, but allowing that we could add to the cap if the Secretary chose to,” Lapan said.
Officials are still looking at the law’s language “to determine ‘What does this really mean?’” he said.
The agency is looking at the possible impact on businesses, but may also seek the view of groups which oppose the contract worker programs, he said.
DHS officials have still not met with officials at the Labor Department, and the expansion authority expires in October, Lapan said.
But Kelly should be forthright, said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which oppose the H-2B program. “We’d all like some clarity out of the administration … if you are going to say no … there is no time like the present to say it clearly.”
The president was very clear in his campaign that he intended to look out for the interest of American workers. The people coming in on H-2B [visas] are competing with the most vulnerable workers who have been hurt the most … the first priority should be to do what is in the interests of the American workers who have been harmed, seen their wage driven down and have been pushed to the sidelines, and we should focus on bringing those people into the workforce.
The push for more cheap H-2Bs, he added, “is the chamber of commerce talking — they just want their cheap labor.”
Here is Kelly’s May statement to the appropriations committee:
This is one of things I really wish I did not have any discretion, and for every Senator or Congressman that has your view, I have another one that says ‘Don’t you dare, this is about American jobs.’ You know the argument, both sides. My staff, members of my staff, are coordinating with the Department of Labor on this. One of the things, and I have my working class root background that keeps reminding me that some of these individuals —not necessarily in Alaska — but many, many of these individuals are victimized when they come up here, in terms of what they’re paid and all the rest of it, so we’re working with Labor, Department of Labor, to come up with an answer to this, but we really do need a long-term solution, so we’ll work with the Senate and with Congress, within the industry, this year, and again, I’ll have my staff when they return from Labor and we get some protocols in place, we’ll likely increase the numbers for this year, perhaps not by the entire number that I’m authorized, but we really do need, I’m really looking forward to working with you Senator, and the whole Congress, to get a longer-term solution to this.
Each year, the federal government allows companies to import roughly 1 million blue-collar and white-collar guest workers, ensuring a year-round resident population of at least 1 million foreign workers. The government also imports 1 million legal immigrants. In 2016, roughly 500,000 illegals joined the workforce. Roughly 4 million young Americans join the workforce each year.
That annual inflow of roughly 2 million foreign workers floods the job market just as 4 million young Americans graduate and join the workforce.