Wednesday, December 16, 2015

H-2Bs: But wait--there's more!

One of the many significant legislative items tucked into the 2009-page omnibus bill is an expansion of H-2B visa program, which purports to supply temporary, seasonal labor.  Ian Smith notes some of the shortcomings of this proposal and of the potential for abuse within the H-2B program.

The H-2B proposal that's gotten the most headlines so far is the fact that the omnibus proposes a substantial increase in the number of H-2B workers.  Currently, the number of H-2B workers is capped at 66,000 a year.  The omnibus works around this cap by stating that workers who got an H-2B visa in 2013, 2014, or 2015 shall not count against the cap for 2016.  This means that as many as 264,000 H-2B workers could be in the country in 2016.

But the omnibus does not stop with visa expansion.  It also puts forward a host of policies that will remove other limits on this program.

The omnibus revises or defunds various regulations of the H2B program.  Under the omnibus:

  • "Seasonal" workers can work 10 months out of the year.
  • Employers will be able to use a broader variety of methods to calculate what exactly H-2B workers should be paid.  (The H-2B program, like other guest-worker programs, relies on the government management of wages.)  This revision could allow employers to pay some workers less than under current policy.
  • The current 3/4 guarantee is defunded.  The 3/4 guarantee stipulates that employers who use the H-2B program must offer H-2B workers a total number of work hours equal to at least 3/4s of the workdays over a 12-week period.
  • Efforts to stop abuses in the H-2B program are rolled back and defunded.

Corporate lobbyists are very excited by this expansion of the H-2B program.  Applauding the omnibus, a landscaping group offers praise to the following members of Congress:
Senators Cochran (R-MS), Mikulski (D-MD), Hoeven (R-ND), Shaheen (D-NH), Blunt (R-MO), Murray (D-WA), Cassidy (R-LA), Tillis (R-NC), Warner (D-VA) and Reps. Hal Rogers (R-KY), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Carter (R-TX), Roybal-Allard, Cole (R-OK), DeLauro (D-CT), Harris (R-MD), Goodlatte (R-VA), Chabot (R-OH), and Boustany (R-LA).
In its summary of the omnibus, the House Appropriations Committee trumpets the fact that the omnibus "roll[s] back...regulations that make it harder for employers to use the H-2B program."

H-2B guest workers compete against native-born Americans and legal immigrants who are young, without advanced schooling, rural, and poor.  Thus, many of the most vulnerable will face economic pressures from this visa expansion.  Proponents of the GOP as a party of opportunity have raised doubts about this expansion of the H-2B program.  A bipartisan group of senators, including Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), have criticized this proposal.

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