Over 33 million Americans have lost their jobs in the past seven weeks. Many of them are ready for work and eager to find a job, but their government has continued allowing foreign workers to undercut them in the labor market. Guest worker programs grant a variety of temporary visa classifications, such as H-1B and H-2B, allowing employers to import cheap labor instead of paying wages to American citizens in need of work. These programs bring in more than 1 million foreign workers in an average year, yet they have faced no new restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
In an executive order issued April 22, President Trump announced his decision to suspend applications on a limited class of immigrant visas for 60 days. While his order was a step in the right direction, it excluded guest worker programs from the ban. When the economy is open for business again, unemployed Americans will be forced to compete with foreign laborers willing to take lower wages for an increasingly limited number of jobs.
As a remedy to this problem, I have led a group of House Republicans in urging President Trump to extend his executive order and immediately suspend the various, unaddressed, guest worker programs. With the unemployment rate at levels unseen since the Great Depression, our government should not be importing the competition of American workers.
A blanket suspension of new, guest worker visas is President Trump’s most effective tool in defending the American workforce against the harm immigrant laborers could bring to our labor force.
It bears remembering that visa recipients enrolled in these programs are not here on a journey to become citizens. An entirely separate avenue exists for a laborer or immigrant to attain citizenship. The purpose of these programs is to bring workers to America on a temporary basis to meet the demand for labor. Aside from medical professionals and few other exceptions, there is no shortage of workers to fill jobs.
While all guest worker programs we hope to suspend have negative consequences for American workers, the statutory purpose for each category of visas is different. The H-2B visa program is capped at 60,000 workers per year, but the nature of this program may make it the most egregious. Workers filing under this category frequently end up in service industry jobs. Millions of waiters, bartenders, and cooks who have gone weeks without pay will be forced to compete with foreign H-2B workers once restaurants reopen.
This is not a problem unique to the service industry. White collar workers are equally vulnerable to competition with temporary visa recipients. The H-1B and L-1 programs regularly displace American citizens from good-paying jobs. In fact, the State Department issued 265,000 of these visas last year. There is no policy currently in place to end these issuances.
A new class of college graduates will enter the workforce this summer with dismal prospects. They too will be forced to compete with temporary guest workers due to the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. The OPT program issues hundreds of thousands of visas each year as an extension of student visas for recent, college graduates. Shockingly, a payroll tax exemption actually incentivizes employers to hire through the OPT program rather than hiring American graduates.
Few of these visa categories have been exploited to the extent of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. Established in 1990, the EB-5 program stipulates that any foreign national can buy a pathway to citizenship by investing $1.8 million in American businesses. This is not the way the greatest nation in the world should be accepting immigrants. The EB-5 program has also been disproportionately used by Chinese nationals seeking a shortcut to American citizenship.
While our letter to President Trump simply asked that all guest visas receive a 60-day suspension (matching his approach toward green card applications), we also called for President Trump to permanently eliminate the EB-5 program. Republicans and Democrats have tried to fix the immigrant investor program for 25 years, but changes have yet to be made. It is inherently unjust and contrary to our nation’s guiding principles.
As the United States navigates the most devastating labor market since the Great Depression, its citizens must not be asked to merely believe their government is working to defend their best interests.
We must show them. President Trump won the White House by speaking to the hearts of millions of forgotten Americans. He knows how to champion their causes better than anyone. I hope to see our president implement the recommendations we have humbly submitted in our letter and look forward to continuing our fight for the future of the American worker.