A few days ago our legislators reached a tentative deal to fund the government through September; though the legislation has not been finalized and signed yet, the current agreement expires at the end of the week. Byron York reports that, like any 1,665-page bill, it’s stuffed with a lot of lawmakers’ pet priorities:
One of those priorities sure to cause controversy, if it becomes widely known, is a provision to greatly increase the number of temporary, low-wage foreign workers allowed into the United States. (In government-speak, “temporary” can mean a worker who spends up to nine months a year in the U.S. for multiple years.) The number of such workers is currently limited to 66,000 per year. Under the new spending bill, that could double.
It’s right there on page 735, in a section dealing with H-2B visas, which allow foreign workers to fill low-wage, seasonal, non-agricultural jobs in the United States. … “Notwithstanding the numerical limitation set forth [in the law],” the bill says, “the Secretary of Homeland Security, after consultation with the Secretary of Labor, and upon the determination that the needs of American businesses cannot be satisfied in fiscal year 2017 with United States workers who are willing, qualified, and able to perform temporary nonagricultural labor, may increase the total number of aliens who may receive a visa [under the H-2B law].”
In addition to increasing the number of H-2Bs, the new provision would remove some key protections for U.S. workers. In an email conversation, Michael Hancock, a former top official in the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, said that at present, there is a requirement that U.S. workers in the same geographical area as H-2B workers “are entitled to at least as generous wages and terms of employment as H-2B workers.” The visa provision in the spending bill, Hancock said, “forbids the Department of Labor from enforcing this protection on behalf of U.S. workers.”
In February I spelled out the advantages of high-skill immigration, and Trump himself has said he thinks immigration should be “merit-based.” So increasing the number of low-skill foreign workers is … an odd decision.