Politics

House Leaders Sneak Dramatic Expansion Of Guest Worker Program Into Funding Bill

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Rachel Stoltzfoos Staff Reporter

Congressional leaders quietly inserted a provision into the $1 trillion spending bill released late Tuesday night that would dramatically expand a guest worker program, allowing businesses to import as many as four times the current number of low-skilled guest workers.

GOP leaders did not advertise the provision, which would effectively quadruple the issuance of low-skilled H-2B visas at a time when record numbers of Americans are not working. Previous efforts to expand the program have been highly contested, in the form of a standalone bill and as part of the notorious 2013 Gang of Eight bill that failed to pass. (RELATED: GOP Readies Bill To Expand ‘Seasonal’ Guest Worker Program)

Businesses use the H-2B visa program to hire low-skilled foreign workers for temporary non-farm jobs in restaurants, hotels, resorts, even trucking companies. The measure inserted into the spending bill would exempt visas issued in 2013, 2014, or 2015 from counting against the annual cap of 66,000 visas, effectively allowing up to about a quarter million more foreign workers into the U.S. job market.

These foreigners work in occupations including cooking, hospitality, construction and maintenance for as little as three months and many as three years on the visa. Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, chairman of the Senate immigration subcommittee, has said the bill will be “bad for American workers” and urged Republicans in November not to attach it to the spending bill. (RELATED: Once Again Foreign-Born Jobs Are Up, U.S.-Born Jobs Down)

An Economics Policy Institute analysis of federal data in March found there are many more unemployed workers than job openings in many of these industries. In construction, for example, EPI found there are six unemployed workers for each job opening.

“Flooding this loose labor market with additional low-skilled labor hurts the wages and reduces the job prospects of those who are recent immigrants and native-born who are struggling the most,” Sessions wrote in the November letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The number of Americans participating in the job market overall is at its lowest rate since 1977 — nearly 40 percent of Americans 16 and older are not working or looking for work. And wages and share of income for the bottom 90 percent of American wage-earners declined over the past 40 years, as the foreign-born population increased dramatically, according to the Congressional Research Service.

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