Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is no fan of a bill sponsored by two of his Republican colleagues that would cut legal immigration in half over the next decade.
In response to the re-introduction of the RAISE Act, which was unveiled by GOP Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue on Wednesday at the White House, the South Carolina Republican voiced concern the bill would hurt the tourism and agricultural industries in his home state.
Graham’s concern for South Carolina’s largest employers may be warranted, but in the case of the RAISE Act, appears to be misplaced. As immigration policy experts have noted, the bill does not reduce in any way the hundreds of thousands of temporary work visas issued to foreigners each year.
“South Carolina’s number one industry is agriculture and tourism is number two. If this proposal were to become law, it would be devastating to our state’s economy which relies on this immigrant workforce,” Graham said in a statement. “South Carolina’s agriculture and tourism industry advertise for American workers and want to fill open positions with American workers. Unfortunately, many of these advertised positions go unfilled. Hotels, restaurants, golf courses and farmers will tell you this proposal – to cut legal immigration in half — would put their business in peril.”
Those so-called H-2 visa categories are designed to bring in foreign labor for agricultural and seasonal work when U.S. companies are unable to find Americans to fill the jobs. Under the H-2A program, U.S. agricultural companies can sponsor an unlimited number of farm workers as long as they show that the foreign arrivals don’t “adversely affect” the wages of similarly employed U.S. workers. The H-2B program is geared toward non-agricultural sectors and allows up to 66,000 foreigners to work in seasonal fields such as tourism, hospitality and restaurants.
Graham is likely familiar with the H-2 programs given that South Carolina is one of the nation’s heaviest users of the temporary visas. The state brought in 3,498 H-2B seasonal workers in 2016, despite a native unemployment rate of 9.2 percent in the 20-24 age bracket, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.
Contrary to Graham’s characterization, the RAISE Act addresses a separate flow of immigrants who come to the U.S. as legal permanent residents, commonly known as green card holders. The bill aims to reduce current legal immigration levels — about 1.1 million new green cards annually– to “historic norms” somewhere near 500,000 per year.
Graham wasn’t the only person in Washington to conflate the RAISE Act with temporary worker programs. During the White House press briefing Wednesday afternoon, Trump administration senior adviser Stephen Miller debated with several reporters who asked about the bill’s potential effect on U.S. employers of seasonal workers.
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