Last week, 38 moderate Republicans in the House of Representatives and nine in the Senate sent President Trump a letter requesting that the H-2B visa program continue uninterrupted as the nation struggles with Depression-level unemployment levels.
If they get their wish, 66,000 additional foreign workers will be allowed into the United States this year to compete with unemployed Americans who are trying to find jobs. In addition, the Administration has the authority to add to that number additional visas, up to the previous year’s total, if necessary.
H-2B visas are for low-skilled workers in non-agricultural jobs, such as hotels, amusement parks, restaurants, landscaping, and meat processing. Although these occupations have seen the entry of foreign labor in recent decades, the vast majority of the workers continue to be U.S. citizens. For example, contrary to popular misconception, 88% of food preparation workers and 66% of ground maintenance workers are native-born U.S. citizens.
Right now, many of them are out of work, along with over 42 million other Americans. However, the 47 moderate Republicans who signed the letter are apparently not concerned to ensure that unemployed U.S. citizens are first in line for those jobs. They’d rather bring in another 66,000 foreign workers. It’s outrageous.
The arguments that the moderate Republicans make in their letter are laughable. For example, they claim that we need these extra foreign workers now, “in the event that we see a rapid drop in unemployment and a return to the extremely tight labor markets of just a few months ago.” As if. Were such an unexpectedly sharp drop to occur, the President could reconsider any moratorium or reduction in the H-2B visa program at that point. It’s nonsense to argue that such an infusion of foreign workers is needed now.
Moreover, there was no economic evidence of a shortage of American workers in those fields when the economy was strong, before the coronavirus shutdown.
So why did these moderate Republicans write their letter? It appears that they are more concerned about bringing in additional foreign labor to keep wages depressed than they are about getting Americans back to work. That, and satisfying the corporate PACs and other contributors in the relevant industries who support their campaigns.
You would think that in this time of extraordinary unemployment, Members of Congress would be united in ensuring that American workers come first. But you’d be wrong.
Kris W. Kobach served as the Secretary of State of Kansas during 2011-2019. An expert in immigration law, he co-authored the Arizona SB 1070 law and represented the 10 ICE agents who sued the Obama Administration to stop the DACA amnesty. He is currently a candidate for Kansas’s U.S. Senate seat. His website is kriskobach.com. Full disclosure: his Republican primary opponent, Rep. Roger Marshall, was one of the signatories of the letter calling for more H-2B workers.