Bipartisan Group of Senators Blast H-2B Increase
By Heather Ham-Warren | June 8, 2018
On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of Senators sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta to express their concerns regarding their decision to provide a major increase in the number of H-2B guest worker visas without improving protections for American workers and visa holders or increasing the enforcement of wage and workplace safety.
As a reminder, the H-2B nonimmigrant visa program allows U.S. employers who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring low-skilled foreign workers to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs. These seasonal workers— imported in by industries like hospitality, landscaping, and seafood processing— are not exactly cheap. But they are certainly cheaper than the wage increases required to attract Americans to these positions.
In March, Congress ignored the American people and appealed to powerful business interests by utilizing the omnibus to expand access to foreign labor by including a provision that allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to double the number of H-2B visas available in the current fiscal year. The same option was included in the FY 2017 omnibus, with then-DHS Secretary John Kelly assuring Americans it was a “one-time” thing. Eventually— last week—the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security finalized the approval of an additional 15,000 H-2B visas through the end of the fiscal year – a nearly twenty-five percent increase in the number of visas issued through this program.
In response to this increase, Senators Blumenthal (D-CT), Cotton (R-AR), Durbin (D-IL), and Grassley (R-IA) joined together to express their disappointment. Although there has been job growth in the industries that typically rely on H-2B visas, wages for those jobs have stagnated or even declined. Workers who come to the United States under the H-2B visa program are also particularly vulnerable to recruitment and workplace abuse, human trafficking, and debt bondage.
The letter also highlights the detrimental effect this increase will have on American works. “[S]tudies show that wages for U.S. workers have stagnated, and there has been a significant ‘long-term decline in the labor force participation rate’ for U.S. workers in H-2B fields. In one recent study, employers using H-2B workers were found to undercut the wages of similarly employed U.S. workers by nearly twenty-five percent. In short, a large body of evidence suggests that increasing reliance on the H-2B program as currently structured reduces wages, pushes U.S. workers out of jobs, and may, in some cases, discourage them from ever applying again. Increases in the number of H-2B visas without strengthening worker protections and enforcement of labor and employment law will only exacerbate these problems.”
FAIR wrote a letter to Secretary Nielsen in March urging DHS to protect the job opportunities and wages of blue collar American workers by refusing to issue any additional H-2B foreign worker visas above the statutory annual cap of 66,000.