More Cheap Foreign Labor is the Focus of the U.S. Chamber’s New Advocacy Campaign
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce – one of the country’s largest and oldest business lobbying groups – has begun an all-out push to increase legal immigration and amnesty illegal aliens. The Chamber has already spent $17.6 million on lobbying alone in 2021, after spending $81.9 million in 2020.
Billed as a comprehensive outline to address the “labor shortage” triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chamber recently unveiled its “America Works” plan on Capitol Hill. A key component of the Chamber’s plan is to double the number of immigrant visas allocated in a given year. The United States currently gives out about 1 million or more immigrant visas every year.
The plan’s four main components include (1) helping Americans acquire the skills they need to fill today’s open jobs, (2) improving educational and job training opportunities for the jobs of tomorrow, (3) removing barriers to entering the workforce, and finally, expanding the workforce through immigration reform.
The fact is this: the Chamber has been on the wrong side of the immigration issue for decades. Instead of fighting for working-class Americans, they continually push for more and more immigration – both illegal and legal – as a way to drive down wages and keep the profits of member companies high. The Chamber is the same group that lobbies for policies that have completely hollowed out the middle class all for the sake of raising the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), completely oblivious and indifferent to the effects of their favorite policy prescriptions, such as “free” trade, immigration, and offshoring.
The immigration section of the “America Works” initiative is simply more of the same: increasing immigration in order to stall wage increases for American workers. Below is a list of their policy points, with FAIR’s analysis and criticism.
Double the cap on employment-based immigrant visas from 140,000/year to 280,000/year.
FAIR has long supported transitioning to a merit-based system that prioritizes talented immigrants with English proficiency, advanced degrees, and unique talents. Unfortunately, the Chamber’s proposal is shortsighted. Rather than adjusting the proportion of employment-based immigration, they simply call for increasing the total number of visas overall. In 2019, the last year for which full data is available, the United States issued green cards to 1,031,765 people. Of those, only 13.5 percent were employment based. A full 68.8 percent of all green cards went to individuals who simply had a relative living in the United States – chain migration at work. Any increases in employment-based visas must accompany significant reductions in visas distributed through chain migration.
Eliminate the practice of counting spouses and minor children under the annual green card quota, which, if done alone, would practically double the amount of employment-based immigrant workers our nation admits every year.
This proposal is nonsensical and – because of serious conflicts with congressional intent – legally questionable. Fudging the math to increase admissions for the purpose of increasing the number of green card holders is a subversive way to push through a policy position that is very unpopular with the American public and which Congress has not approved. In a 2019 AP poll, only 23 percent of Americans think Congress should increase the number of annual green cards, while 34 percent want immigration reduced and 41 percent want it to remain at its current level.
Eliminate the Per-Country Caps that punish individuals from certain countries with arbitrarily longer wait times, and when done in combination with expanding the annual quota, will avoid the creation of several new backlogs within the system.
FAIR has long opposed eliminating per-country caps, which prevent one or two countries from dominating immigrant visa allocation. In fact, even with the Chamber’s proposed increase, the backlog is so large that nationals from India and China would continue dominating visa allocation if Congress eliminated the caps. Further, chain migration laws currently in place, these beneficiaries would be able to sponsor their family members from back home to immigrate to the United States, reducing diversity by ensuring that nearly all future immigrants come from just one or two countries.
Provide international students who graduate from U.S. universities with more opportunities to obtain employment-based green cards upon graduation.
Foreign students attend colleges and universities in the United States on temporary, nonimmigrant F-1 visas. In 2019, the U.S. distributed over 1.8 million of these visas. No other country gives citizenship to foreign nationals simply because they spent a few years attending university there.
Worse, the United States runs a bizarre program called Optional Practical Training (OPT). The OPT program is not authorized by Congress in any capacity – it is entirely a creation of the executive branch. OPT allows graduating college students on F-1 visas to work for up to two years in the United States without obtaining a new visa. Employers that hire OPT workers do not pay any payroll taxes on them, meaning that OPT graduates are often considerably cheaper to hire than American graduates. When the OPT workers “age out” of the program, the employer simply hires a new OPT worker. This directly impacts American graduates who compete against these cheaper guestworkers for prized roles in the business and STEM fields. College students previously wrote to President Trump demanding that he end the OPT and reform the H-1B programs, respectively.
Besides, there is no need to create new programs to “provide international students who graduate from U.S. universities with opportunities to obtain employment-based green cards upon graduation.” U.S. immigration laws and policies already provide these opportunities. Employers who are willing to sponsor recent foreign graduates are generally able to do so. However, due to programs such as the H-1B and OPT, there is no incentive for an employer to do such a thing when they can hire guestworkers who cost significantly less than full-time Americans performing the same jobs. An Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study found that “over 60 percent of H-1B positions certified by the U.S. Department of Labor are assigned wage levels well below the local median wage for the occupation.” The report also found that firms such as Amazon, Microsoft, Walmart, Google, Apple, and Facebook “take advantage of program rules in order to legally pay many of their H-1B workers below the local median wage for the jobs they fill.”
Enhance and expand the opportunities for entrepreneurs to obtain permanent residency so they can build their businesses here in the United States.
Once again, a program already exists for to accomplish this. Worse, the results have been disastrous, riddled with fraud, and defile the meaning of American citizenship.
The EB-5 program provides green cards to investors who finance a business that creates at least 10 jobs. On paper this program sounds somewhat reasonable, but in practice it has been ripe for fraud and abuse. The program – meant originally to lure immigrant entrepreneurs to rural areas of the U.S. to spur economic growth – has instead funneled money and wealthy investors to big metropolitan areas such as New York City and San Francisco, where many have started fraudulent enterprises that failed to hire anyone. Numerous lawsuits contend that the program is ripe with fraud, and investors can pool their money into “targeted employment areas” which officials gerrymandered so that wealthy Chinese investors can live in New York City while supposedly investing in an “economically distressed” part of the country.
From a political-philosophical angle, the prospect of merely receiving a green card because you can afford to make a large commercial investment is an affront to the American ideal of citizenship. U.S. citizenship is priceless, and should be guarded, not commodified and sold.
Double the annual quota on the issuance of H-1B visas for high-tech workers.
The H-1B program is perhaps the most abused guestworker program in our immigration system. Its supporters will tell you that without mass availability of this guestworker visa, the United States would face STEM worker shortages and all kinds of other terrible economic consequences. In reality, the H-1B program allows corporations to replace American workers with temporary foreign workers who are willing to work for significant discounts.
Research from the Economic Policy Institute shows that many H-1B workers earn significantly less than American workers in the equivalent positions and similar educational backgrounds and experience levels. Major American companies – such as Disney – are notorious for firing their American workers and demanding that they train their foreign replacements as a condition of their severance packages. The program is also hardly for STEM and the “best of the best.” In West Chester, PA, a pizza parlor hired kitchen staff under the H-1B visa. In Florida, the government certified the application for a “Director of eSports” with a $21,260 annual salary.
The H-1B program needs significant overhaul to protect American workers from unfair job competition and foreign workers from exploitation not an expansion.
Double the annual quota and instituting a permanent returning worker exemption for H-2B seasonal employment visas.
The H-2B program allows employers to hire low-skilled temporary foreign workers in non-agricultural, seasonal roles. There are some niche industries in which this program is beneficial. Large fishing operations in Alaska, forestry companies, and crab houses in Maryland, for example, rely on this program to match demand for their products despite their worksites being in low-populated areas.
But H-2B visa holders rarely go to the companies that need them. Instead, many H-2B visa holders end up working for landscapers in Texas and Florida – jobs that are hardly seasonal. Landscaping, construction, and custodial services gobble up the majority of the capped H-2B visas, forcing out the small number of companies that may actually need them.
Instead of expanding the H-2B cap of 66,000, Congress should restrict the industries that can access this guestworker program and cap the proportion of visas allocated to any one industry. Simply raising the cap will result in the same situation we have now. True reform in this program – aside from ending it entirely – means setting proportion ceilings on high-use industries.
Worse, many of the jobs destroyed during the COVID-19 pandemic came from the restaurant and entertainment industry, which employ many H-2B workers. Any job growth in this sector must go to Americans first before we even consider giving foreign guestworkers the opportunity.
Create a new, geographically targeted visa program, along the lines of the Heartland Visa proposal, that will drive economic and population growth into American communities struggling with the serious economic and social problems caused by significant population loss.
This is another proposal that looks good on paper but will result in disastrous consequences. These proposals work only when immigrants who use them decide to stay in the locality, an impossible requirement that almost never happens. Most immigrants – both legal and illegal –come to the United States for economic reasons. This reality explains why most immigrant populations live in just a handful of states, concentrated in major metropolitan areas – it’s where the jobs are. How, for instance, could a Heartland Visa program prevent recipients from leaving the economically destitute area? Are they tied to the geographic region like serfs? Is this really what a 21st century immigration plan looks like?
Flooding a struggling community with foreign labor will not revitalize it on its own. Unless there are existing jobs and improved infrastructure, it may easily overwhelm limited community resources and public benefits, force American workers to compete with new arrivals, and, as a result, sew social tension between newcomers and natives. Of course, the Chamber of Commerce likely does not bother with these considerations given that their championed policies – outsourcing, union-busting, immigration expansion, and “free” trade – destroyed the economic engine that drove many of these communities in the first place.
Protect Vulnerable Populations of Critical Workers
This is nothing more than a fancy way to say “enact a mass amnesty bill.” The Chamber’s request mirrors a bill passed by the House in March that would grant a pathway to citizenship to roughly 3 million illegal aliens, often referred to by mass-immigration activists as “Dreamers,” who are already in the country. The bill also provides a pathway to citizenship to hundreds of thousands of migrants under a deeply flawed temporary relief program known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Even worse, it does not contain any immigration enforcement provisions to address the current crisis at the border, but rather, serves as another pull-factor to encourage illegal immigration into the United States. But that is what the Chamber wants – illegal immigration to never stop.
Eliminate Harmful Regulatory Policies
The Chamber argues that some rules on the books “delay or hinder the ability of companies to hire/continue employing foreign national professionals” and that this is a “threat to business.” In reality, these policies exist to protect American workers from becoming casualties in the business lobby’s struggle to drive down wages and increase profits by hiring cheap, foreign guestworkers. Without wage requirements and other regulatory protections, unscrupulous employers would use H-1B, L-1, and OPT guestworkers to replace white-collar employees and use H-2B and J-1 guestworkers to replace blue-collar employees. Rules that address wage requirements, living conditions, and certification procedures do their best to ensure that employers cannot replace an American workforce with cheap foreign labor. If anything, more rules need to be issued, not rescinded.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “America Works” initiative is nothing more than an attempt to normalize mass immigration policies under the guise of driving economic growth. Even those claims require greater scrutiny. More immigration certainly raises the country’s GDP, but that is hardly the only measure of a healthy and successful economy. Immigration impacts native-born wages, employment, schooling, and a whole host of other issues.
The COVID-19 pandemic devastated the U.S. economy, and we will likely feel the effects of the recession for a long time. Although numbers are improving, millions of Americans remain either out of work or significantly under-employed. As jobs begin coming back now that the country opens up, it should be a goal of the current administration and of Congress to ensure that those jobs go to American citizens. How can they do that?
First, ignore the Chamber. The Chamber does not have the interests of U.S. citizens in mind, they only care about ever-increasing profits for their member companies, no matter the social cost. Second, reform our immigration system so that American citizens are not forced to compete against cheap foreign labor. And finally, reduce overall immigration and guestworker levels in order to spurn a tight labor market that raises the wages of American workers and encourages people to get back into the workforce.