Republicans, Democrats Seek to Widen H-2B Visa Program as 20.6M Americans are Jobless

Workers process chickens at the Lincoln Premium Poultry plant, Costco Wholesale's dedicated poultry supplier, in Fremont, Neb., Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
AP Photo/Nati Harnik

A handful of House Republicans, and two House Democrats, are circulating a plan asking the State Department to widen the H-2B visa program that brings tens of thousands of low-skilled foreign workers to the United States every year.

The draft letter, authored by Reps. Andy Harris (R-MD) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and obtained by Breitbart News, asks Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to issue guidance on President Trump’s visa suspension from June, specifically for the H-2B visa program.

Harris and Pingree want Pompeo to more clearly define exemptions for the H-2B visa program in Trump’s executive order — a move that would help widen businesses’ ability to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to take jobs in the food industry.

There are currently about 20.6 million Americans who are jobless but want full-time jobs. Additionally, 7.6 million Americans are underemployed. The spur of mass unemployment was caused by economic shutdowns from the Chinese coronavirus crisis.

The lawmakers who have signed onto the letter thus far include:

  • Andy Harris (R-MD)
  • Chellie Pingree (D-ME)
  • Dusty Johnson (R-SD)
  • Michael Conway (R-TX)
  • Robert Wittman (R-VA)
  • Denver Riggleman (R-VA)
  • Filemon Vela (D-TX)

The full letter can be read here:

Letter to State Dept re H-2… by John Binder

The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) union and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) are asking lawmakers not to sign onto the Harris-Pingree letter.

“The H-2B program exploits workers, leads to wage depression, and even has been used for human trafficking,” a LIUNA spokesperson said in a statement to lawmakers. “During the current COVID and economic crisis, pushing for more H-2B guest worker visas at a time when there is record unemployment in the U.S., with some states’ unemployment rates as high as 15 percent or more, is absurd.

“There are plenty of workers already in the U.S. to do these jobs,” the LIUNA statement continues. “Instead of exploiting foreign workers, employers should be reaching out to unions and others to hire people already in the U.S. to protect both U.S. and foreign workers.”

A FAIR spokesperson said the letter “is nothing more than an attempt to enhance access to cheap foreign labor during a continuing economic crisis wrought by COVID-19.”

“The August unemployment report noted that millions of Americans remain out of work, and particularly hard hit are those in every part of the food supply chain,” the FAIR statement reads. “Exempting thousands of H-2B guest workers at a time when millions of Americans remain out of work is wrong and misguided.”

The H-2B visa program has been widely used by businesses to drag down the wages of American workers in landscaping, conservation work, the meatpacking industry, the construction industry, and fishing jobs, a 2019 study from the Center for Immigration Studies finds.

When comparing the wages of H-2B foreign workers to the national wage average for each blue-collar industry, about 21 out of 25 of the industries offered lower wages to foreign workers than Americans.

In the construction industry, wage suppression is significant, with H-2B foreign workers being offered more than 20 percent less than their American counterparts. In the fishing industry, foreign workers were offered more than 30 percent less for their jobs than Americans in the field. In the meatpacking industry, foreign workers got 23 percent less pay than Americans.

Every year, the U.S. admits about 1.2 million legal immigrants on green cards to permanently resettle in the country. In addition, another 1.4 million foreign workers are admitted every year to take American jobs.

John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter at @JxhnBinder

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