No sooner had employers wailed that a dire worker shortage might put their businesses on the brink than President Biden rewarded them with 22,000 new employment-based visas. The I-can’t-find-workers is employers’ annual lament and, superficially at least, this year they lay blame on the coronavirus pandemic. Frenzied media reporting may have scared some workers away from the labor markets. Others on the sideline are reaping the benefits from Biden’s financial largesse in the form of stimulus relief checks.
With lightening-like speed, the Department of Homeland Security, acting in conjunction with the Department of Labor, announced that the 22,000 bump in H-2B visas for temporary, nonagriculture workers would ensure that American businesses have easy access to the labor pool they allegedly need to recover successfully and contribute to the economic health of local communities. Included under the H-2B umbrella are jobs in landscaping, construction and hospitality – work that Americans will perform.
While the DHS swamp-speak sounds convincing, the harsh reality is that employers want more cheap labor, and they know Biden is the soft touch who will provide it. Added to the 66,000 H-2B visas already authorized for the current fiscal year, employers will have the flexibility to hire 88,000 foreign-born workers.
In the fiercely competitive arena of most fraud-ridden among the employment-based visas, the H-2B is near or at the top. A few years ago, the Government Accountability Office reviewed several closed cases that involved employers who hired H-2B employees. The GAO’s findings showed employers’ blatant disregard for labor rights and human dignity.
In South Dakota, hotel owners who employed H-2B workers were found guilty of nine counts of conspiracy, holding people in peonage, making false statements and visa fraud. In Louisiana, 87 Indian nationals paid at least $20,000 each for H-2B visas to work in construction, but were never employed by the construction company. The construction company owner pled guilty to conspiracy, and others were found guilty of conspiracy, money laundering and 14 counts of encouraging and inducing illegal immigration.
In Virginia, hospitality industry employers, later linked to organized crime, fraudulently obtained 3,800 H-2B labor certifications but leased the workers to undisclosed businesses not listed on the visa petitions. The criminals defrauded the Internal Revenue Service of $7.4 million in payroll taxes and eventually plead guilty to conspiracy, visa fraud and tax evasion.
A subsequent Economic Policy Institute analysis found that in the vast majority of H-2B visa occupations, Americans’ wages were stagnant or declined, a direct consequence of more overseas employees in the domestic labor market. Despite the year-after-year outcry from employers, no evidence exists of a labor shortage.
And as the economy slowly climbs out from the pandemic lockdown, employer shortage claims to which Biden has given credence by offering more H-2B visas ring hallow. The U-6, or real unemployment rate, which includes the underemployed, the marginally attached and discouraged workers, is 10.7 percent, which represents about 17.4 million Americans.
As Biden’s DHS announced the H-2B visa increase, small towns across America are engulfed in what one journalist described as “a permanent atmosphere of despair.” Most people, if they work at all, earn barely enough to eke by. USA Today profiled such a town, tiny and poor Ogdensburg, New York. Even before COVID-19, life in Ogdensburg was a struggle. Census Bureau data showed that the median house in the city of 10,000 people sold for $68,000; the average family earns $42,000 a year and 2,300 residents live below the family-of-four $26,500 federal poverty guideline.
Ogdensburg’s poverty rate is 75 percent higher than the rest of New York. Post-pandemic, the city coffers are near-empty; the hospital furloughed 174 staffers; and restaurants, grocery stores and the few local businesses are hanging on by a thread. Other American small towns are undergoing similar prolonged periods of economic strife from which they are unlikely to ever emerge.
Ogdensburg isn’t on the White House’s radar. Instead, the 22,000 lucky H-2B visa recipients are, and they will come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – the Northern Triangle countries – as part of the Biden administration’s futile effort to offset what it labels as “the root causes of migration.”
Ninety days into the Biden administration, neither the president nor his inner circle has given the slightest indication that they’re concerned about small-town America. Their exclusive focus is on adding immigrants to the U.S. population, which will make economic recovery evermore elusive for America’s embattled poor.