Representatives Call for H-2B Expansion During Continued Unemployment Crisis
FAIR Take | September 2020
A bipartisan group of representatives signed onto a letter asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for guidance related to the H-2B program’s pause during the COVID-19 healthcare and economic crisis. President Trump paused most guestworker programs in an April executive order, citing the record unemployment and economic devastation facing working-class Americans.
Reps. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) urged their colleagues to sign onto the letter, arguing that H-2B workers in the food service industry should be exempt from the order as “national interest” aliens or aliens otherwise important to the food supply chain. Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), Michael Conway (R-Texas), Robert Wittman (R-Va.), Denver Riggleman (R-Va.), and Filemon Vela (D-Texas) joined Harris and Pingree in signing the letter.
This 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. Exempting thousands of H-2B guestworkers at a time when millions of Americans remain out of work is wrong and misguided.
Prominent labor organizations such as the Laborers’ International Union of North America also blasted the letter, correctly citing the negative effects that the H-2B program has on blue-collar Americans and charging that “employers often turn to the H-2B program to avoid paying U.S. workers fair wages, by using guestworkers who they can exploit.”
Despite these efforts, the Trump administration has not given any indication that it plans to rescind the April executive order pausing guestworker programs. FAIR continues to argue that doing so would threaten the gains made by American workers since April, when a full 14.7 percent of Americans were unemployed. The administration must resist calls to restart guestworker programs until the unemployment rate is at least back to pre-COVID levels of 3.5 percent. Every American out of work must have the opportunity to work – programs such as the H-2B prevents them from finding meaningful employment and depresses their wages.