More Cheap Labor Visas, Fewer American Jobs

Judging by the message Congress sends through its quasi-automatic visa approvals, U.S. businesses need overseas workers for virtually every labor category despite about 95 million Americans detached from the labor force. Earlier this month, the annual 85,000 H-1B allotment for FY 2019 was filled. That’s 85,000 jobs that either won’t go to or will displace American citizens.

Former Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka

Congress and tech industry leaders allege that an acute worker shortage forces them to approve and hire H-1B visas for high-skilled labor. Compelling evidence exists, however, that proves such claims are false. In a 2016 interview, former Infosys Chief Executive Officer Vishal Sikka admitted that there’s no shortage of U.S. tech workers, but also acknowledged they were costlier to hire than foreign-born H-1B visa holders.

Sikka’s admission is telling on its face, but even more revealing in light of Infosys’ 2013 agreement to pay a record $34 million fine for smuggling workers into the U.S. on the uncapped B-1 visa that permits temporary visits, but doesn’t grant employment authorization.

With the so-called skilled worker debate settled for this fiscal year, the Capitol Hill discussion now shifts to unskilled workers and the H-2B visa. In last month’s omnibus spending bill, Congress gave Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen the authority to issue H-2B visas above the annual congressionally approved 66,000 cap, a weasel way of deflecting its responsibility. During an early April hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee, Nielsen indicated that she would likely follow in her predecessor John Kelly’s footsteps and provide an increase for seasonal employers who are looking for cheap, subservient foreign labor to fill summer jobs.

H-2B employers are infamous for how they exploit and mistreat their workers, and engage in a form of modern day American slavery. In “Why Guest Workers Are Exploited,” The New York Times cited a General Accountability Office report which confirmed that abuse, inadequate housing, wage theft and sexual misconduct were commonly perpetrated against vulnerable workers. Then, the Times engaged in an Economics 101 exercise and wrote that “when labor is scarce, unemployment falls and wages rise. But [domestic] unemployment is high in all of the top H-2B fields, which include landscaping, grounds keeping, construction, hospitality and seafood processing, while wages in those fields have long been flat or declining [for over a decade].”

Every spring, newspapers publish stories that share employers’ ominous, ultimately false predictions that unless they get cheap labor soon, their businesses will collapse. Year after year, Congress is easily sold on employers’ whining, even as the pro-cheap labor champion, the Chamber of Commerce, sees through it. In the popular resort destination of Bar Harbor, Maine, the Chamber, anticipating an H-2B shortage, hosted a jobs fair to hire locals. The equally pro-cheap labor Wall Street Journal reported from Martha’s Vineyard that fewer H-2B visas forced employers to pursue “Plan B,” that is, hire American.

Employers can’t make a convincing case that Americans won’t work at internationally popular New England summer destinations. Neither can employers argue that for harder labor like crab picking, Americans won’t do those jobs. Offer crab pickers $13 an hour, the wage once paid, and long lines will form.

The historic solution to labor shortages is to increase pay, not demand that Congress authorize more guest workers. California restaurant owners have put the tried and true system of raising wages into effect. Recently, owners raised dishwasher salaries to $14 an hour, $3 above the minimum, and the shortages disappeared.

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