H-2B Visas Hurt American Wages
By Joe Guzzardi
In what has become an annual display of businesses’ addiction to cheap labor, commerce leaders are lobbying the acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Chad Wolf, to increase the H-2B visa cap. The H-2B is a seasonal, temporary, nonagricultural visa with a current 66,000 cap, and is frequently used in landscaping, hospitality and construction industries – blue-collar jobs where wages have been stagnant for years. Last year, the cap was increased by 30,000 visas.
Adding foreign-born workers to an economy that President Trump touts as the greatest in America’s history would be counter-productive and hurtful to middle-class U.S. workers who are just starting to benefit from a tight labor market. A record-high 158.8 million Americans are currently employed.
The H-2B visa has a long history of being used by employers to pass over qualified Americans and, under the false labor shortage narrative, hire instead cheap, pliant foreign-born labor. A U.S. Government Accountability Office report confirmed that multiple employers in numerous states violated wage, housing and documentation standards among H-2B workers. And a Buzz Feed News exposé based on Labor Department statistics and titled “All You Americans Are Fired” found that “many businesses go to extraordinary lengths to skirt the law, deliberately denying jobs to American workers so they can hire foreign workers….”
Last week, the Congressional Budget Office reported that mass immigration, which the U.S. has experienced for decades, adversely affects the wages of Americans who compete directly with new immigrants for employment. Expansionists argue that immigration grows the economy, a half-truth. More people mean a bigger economy, but per capita income suffers. From the CBO: “And there are many new immigrant workers to compete with. Immigrants account for about half of all newcomers to the workforce each year.” The CBO concluded that wages are negatively affected in whatever category in which American workers must compete in a labor market artificially inflated by mass immigration.
The degree to which Americans have suffered because of a surfeit of immigrant labor is eye-opening. Census Bureau data from the first quarter of 2019 show that 5 million adult immigrants without a bachelor’s degree have been allowed to settle in the country just since 2010. As a result, wages have stagnated or declined for the less educated. Since 2000, the bottom quarter of earners saw just a 4.3 percent real-wage increase – equivalent to an annual raise of just 0.2 percent. An immigrant labor overage most adversely affects teenagers, U.S.-born blacks and other minorities.
Despite pleas from big business that H-2B visa hikes are necessary to offset an acute labor shortage, and even avoid bankruptcy, numerous nonpartisan studies find no evidence of scarcity. Among other respected bipartisan organizations, the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal, pro-immigration, Washington, D.C.-based research firm found “no evidence at all of labor shortages in the labor market.”
The H-2B visa has been so flawed for so long, and has been so harmful to American workers, that even hard-core pro-immigration Democratic senators have written to Wolf and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia urging them to reject corporate crocodile tears about worker shortages. Calif. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Conn. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Ill. Senator Richard Durbin, all of whom throughout their long congressional careers have consistently voted in favor of more employment-based visas, joined their Republican colleagues Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley and Ark. Sen. Tom Cotton to object to increases in the existing 66,000 cap. In their letter to Wolf and Scalia, the senators asserted that the H-2B visa incentivizes employers to hire foreign nationals and pass over qualified Americans.
President Trump is the wild card in the equation. From time to time, the president has demonstrated an understanding about how excessive immigration hurts American workers. But President Trump’s recent comments about the need for more skilled immigration, talking points taken straight from the Chamber of Commerce’s playbook, have the pro-American labor lobby on edge. As is often said around Capitol Hill, when it comes to President Trump’s thinking, no one ever knows.
Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at email@example.com.