2020 Spending Bill: Nancy Pelosi Dams the Flood of H-2B Workers

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi holds a press conference after the House passed Resol
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blocked a push by Maine Democrat Rep. Chellie Pingree to double the inflow of foreign blue-collar H-2B workers up to almost 140,000, according to complaints by employers of the visa workers.

“Speaker Pelosi objected to the inclusion of the [Maine Rep. Chellie] Pingree language due to vehement opposition from the labor unions (UFCW and AFL-CIO),” said a December 2017 report by Amusementparkwarehouse.com, which added:

This was despite the fact that authorizing [judiciary] Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, [Steny] Hoyer, [Joe] Neguse, [Sharice] Davids, [Joe] Cunningham, [Henry] Cuellar and many others made personal requests of the Speaker and her office to include the language in the bill.

Unions dislike the H-2B programs because some companies try to import H-2B “scabs” for well-paid union jobs. For example, in December, Law360.com reported:

A California-based manufacturing company can’t hire 165 temporary migrant employees to build an oil pipeline in southern Texas [because] the pipeline project doesn;t qualify as a one-time employment need, a U.S. Department of Labor appellate board judge has ruled.

Industrial Equipement Silutions Inc. doesn’t qualify to hire pipefitters and welders through the H-2B program  … [the judge] ruled Monday, upholding a Labor Department certifying officer’s decision.

The doubling amendment was pushed by landscapers, who are the biggest users of the H-2B program. On December 16, NurseryMag.com reported a letter to landscapers by the policy director the landscaper’s trade association:

…the 2020 Homeland Security appropriations bill in the House included language that made the Secretary of Homeland Security’s release of additional H-2B visas automatic, but with Congress gridlocked on spending bills, we need you to make the case to your elected officials that this change is necessary … We’re working to make that action automatic, and Congress is listening!

Pelosi’s pro-American decision, however, comes shortly after she voted to massively expand the use of the H-2A program for farm labor. That expansion would effectively impose a federal ceiling on perhaps on million Americans’ wages for the benefit of illegal immigrants, farm companies, and agriculture investors.

Without the doubling amendment, this week’s spending bill approved 69,320 H-2B for foreign workers. Most will be imported for summertime work for landscapers, hotels, bars, and restaurants, while some will be imported to work for forestry and for seafood companies near Washington, D.C.

But the bill also includes a hidden increase approved by House Speaker Paul Ryan in 2017.

Ryan’s rule allows officials at the Department of Homeland Security to approve another 69,320 visas once companies snag the first 69,302 visas.

Pingree’s amendment would have required DHS to release the extra 69,000 visas. But Ryan’s “allows” language gets the same goal without legislators having to vote in public for the extra workers.

The Ryan rule says DHS is allowed to approve the extra workers. That rule invites business groups and legislators to pressure DHS executives in closed-door meetings for extra H-2Bs. The legislators can also threaten to cut the DHS’s next budget or to impose burdensome obligations if DHS officials do not release the extra visas.

In 2019, DHS officials released roughly 30,000 extra H-2Bs amid this backroom pressure — with opposite pressure from the White House to follow the president’s Inauguration Day demand to “Hire American.”

Agency officials hide the total number of H-2B workers who arrive each year — and hide the number of H-2Bs who try to renew their visas for a second or third year of work. In 2020, the H-2B population in the United States is likely to climb above 100,000 in 2020.

Companies prefer H-2B workers because they work harder than most of the Americans who take the lower-status labor jobs after failing to find easier jobs, for example, inside air-conditioned factories or warehouses.

Without the H-2B workers, the landscapers and other companies are often forced to hire seasonal people who miss work, fail drug tests, quit after a few days, or steal company assets. That is good news for the sidelined workers — and also for their communities — but is a financial risk and a management headache for the companies.

To hire good American workers, the employers would have to offer much higher wages and also poach productive Americans from other workplaces. But the extra wages would raise the companies’ operating costs, deter clients, and then shrink the number of companies.

Roughly one-third of the H-2Bs workers are hired for jobs in Texas, Florida, and Colorado.

The population of roughly 100,000 H-2Bs is a small portion of the imported labor force.

For example, the H-2A program brings in at least 250,000 farmworkers. The H-1B program keeps roughly 750,000 college graduates in U.S. jobs. The OPT and CPT programs provide work permits to roughly 400,000 college graduates. The TN and H-4EA programs provide another 200,000 workers, while the L-1 provides at least 100,000 workers. There are no full estimates for the number of people imported via the L-1, TN, and B-1 programs.

The popular curbs on the H-2A program are pushing companies to import workers via other programs, such as the huge J-1 program. Summit Daily reported November 26 that:

Vail Resorts — which owns and operates five Colorado resorts, including Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort in Summit County — has found a way to deal with the [H-2B] cap and hire the right amount of seasonal workers.

[spokeswoman Loryn] Roberson said Vail Resorts was able to get the visas and workers it needed by starting early and moving toward less limited visas types.

“The process started in July, and we successfully completed the multiple steps required to obtain the authorizations,” Roberson wrote in an email. “In the last several years, we have shifted our hiring strategy because of the changes to the visa program that have made it more challenging for companies to get H-2B visas. We’ve slowly been moving away from using them, utilizing others visas like J-1 visas.”

The company used the H-2B program in December 2019 to hire ski instructors.

Each year, federal agencies penalize numerous companies for abusing H-2B workers — but the penalties are usually very slight. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported November 12 that:

JEFFERSON COUNTY — A Jefferson County landscaping company was sentenced Tuesday to probation and paid a $50,000 fine for H-2B immigration visa fraud. The company’s owner got probation and a $7,500 fine.

[William J.] Richardet and his company, Cardinal Lawn and Landscape Inc., submitted immigration forms seeking H-2B visas for workers, falsely claiming that the workers would be employed exclusively by Cardinal. Instead, they leased out 74 workers to other companies from January 2012 to December 2017, prosecutors have said.

Defense lawyer Matt Schelp told U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey that Richardet initially just used the immigrant workers for his own business. He then began leasing workers out to other companies, both because he enjoyed being a “big shot” with those businesses and because of his long-term relationship with the workers, many of whom hailed from the same area in Mexico and who had family or friends who wanted to work in Missouri, Schelp said. Schelp also said that leasing the workers to Richardet’s customers may have helped him do more business with those customers.

The Department of Labor reported December 19 that a New Hampshire employer cheated Americans and H-2B workers:

MANCHESTER, NH – After an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), The NASWA Motor Inn Inc. – doing business as The NASWA Resort in Laconia, New Hampshire – has paid a total of $64,449 in back wages to 64 employees and $60,550 in civil money penalties to resolve violations of the H-2B non-immigrant visa program.

WHD investigators found that the resort failed to comply with several requirements of the H-2B visa program, which permits employers to hire temporarily non-immigrant foreign workers to perform nonagricultural labor or services in the U.S. for a limited time.

The NASWA Resort failed to offer the same terms and working conditions to U.S. job applicants that it provided to H-2B employees during 2016 and 2017. In its job advertisement, the NASWA Resort stated that employees would be required to pay for housing and a security deposit, but did not require H-2B employees to pay the security deposit and did not require all H-2B employees to pay for housing. The advertisement offered 35 weekly hours, significantly less than the 2016 and 2017 actual weekly averages of 48 and 45, respectively. It also failed to include the availability of a higher rate of pay in the job advertisement.

The H-2B program has been carefully tracked by Breitbart News and by the Center for Immigration Studies.


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