Labor Advocates Lament Lack of Protections in New Foreign-Worker Visas

President Trump's announcement of an extra 15,000 visas for foreign workers in fields such as hotel maintenance comes during the administration's self-described "Made In America" week. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Suzanne Potter
California News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Criticism is coming in from worker’s-rights groups on the Trump administration’s announcement Monday July 17th that it will allow an additional 15,000 foreign workers to get visas.

The Department of Homeland Security will grant the extra H-2B visas for guest workers in the tourism, landscaping, construction, seafood and other seasonal industries – but not in agriculture, which uses a different visa program.

Daniel Costa, director of Immigration Law and Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank, says the program ought to be reformed to protect workers from abuse, not expanded.

“The way the program is set up, it ties workers to one employer,” he says. “So if they leave that job or if they get fired, they basically lose that visa status and become deportable. And so it gives employers a lot of power over workers.”

The Trump administration says it simply is trying to accommodate requests from employers who are desperate for laborers. The current limit for H-2B visas is 66,000 – so this will bring that number up to 81,000.

In a recent report, Costa found there is no nationwide shortage of workers in those fields. In fact, unemployment has been high and wages have been flat in these types of jobs for more than a decade.

He argues that expanding the cap on visas will hurt conditions for guest workers and American citizens alike.

“U.S. workers have to compete with workers who are exploitable and can be legally underpaid under the terms of the H-2B program,” he adds. “And so that puts downward pressure on the wages and the working conditions of the U.S. workers who are in those same jobs.”

The report suggests that companies experiencing a local labor shortage do more to recruit from out of state and raise wages and benefits to attract more applicants. The expansion was approved a few months ago as a rider to a must-pass omnibus spending bill.