MEHLMAN: Congress Proposes A Permanent And Growing ‘Temporary’ Foreign Worker Program

Ira Mehlman Ira Mehlman is the media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
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Summer is over. Kids are heading back to school and members of Congress are heading back to Washington to try to hammer out a federal budget for the new fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. In the best of times, this is never an easy undertaking – and these are most certainly not the best of times.

Budget season, with a deadline looming and the ever-present threat of a government shutdown, always presents opportunities for innumerable amendments to federal spending bills aimed at satisfying the demands of one special interest or another, with pressure to approve them because government shutdowns are never popular with the public. There is no special interest more powerful than the business lobby which, inevitably, has a long list of demands for appropriators.

A perennial priority for the business lobby is access to low-wage foreign labor, and this year is no exception. Among a long list of provisions in the $91.5 billion appropriations measure to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is one that would create a permanent “temporary” foreign worker labor force in the United States, and would grow exponentially over time. 

The House bill amends current law to exempt “returning workers” in the H-2B visa program from the total number of workers allowed in 2024. Currently, 66,000 foreign workers per year come to the U.S. temporarily to work in non-agricultural jobs under the program. Under the House Appropriations bill, however, “returning workers” would be exempt from the annual cap of 66,000. The Senate bill also includes an H-2B visa provision, one that increases the 2024 numerical cap by allowing the Secretary to raise it if he determines, at his discretion, that the needs of American businesses cannot be satisfied by U.S. workers.

This proposal to vastly expand the pool of foreign guest workers somehow manages compound a terrible idea with terrible timing. Context is important. The latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics delivers some ominous news for American workers. Over the summer, 1.2 million native-born American workers lost their jobs. If that was not bad enough, during that same period, some 700,000 U.S. jobs were filled by foreign-born workers. Though many members of Congress may have forgotten, protecting American workers from losing jobs and job opportunities to foreign workers is an enunciated objective of U.S. immigration law.

No matter how often business lobbyists cry about a labor shortage in the United States, the evidence suggests otherwise. The U-6 unemployment rate, which includes workers who have become discouraged in their search for employment and those who are involuntarily relegated to part-time jobs, stands at 6.7 percent. Additionally, the labor force participation rate for adults aged 16-64 is only 62.8 percent. In other words, there are plenty of workers to be found right here in the United States, provided employers seek them out and offer reasonable wages.

Another important piece of context is the disastrous state of our immigration system generally. We have a border that is out of control – more than 8.6 million people have entered illegally since President Biden came to office – and our asylum system is being massively abused by economic migrants posing as asylum-seekers. Even though most have no valid claim for asylum, the system is so backlogged that they will be here for years before their case is heard (and are unlikely to leave even when their claims are denied).

Rather than ending this abuse, the Biden administration continues to allow about a quarter of a million new people to enter each month, and issue them Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) as quickly as possible. There are currently 1.5 million EAD applications pending, and local officials who are overwhelmed by the flood of new job-seeking migrants, and business tycoons like Michael Bloomberg, are advocating that Washington speed-up the issuance of EADs. In a September 10 letter to President Biden, 103 House Democrats pressed the administration to work around the mandatory 180-day waiting period for asylum seekers to obtain work authorization, and even suggested that migrants be “paroled-in-place” in order to obtain work authorization quicker.

The appropriations process that will play out in the coming weeks is an opportunity for congressional Republicans to rein in the Biden administration’s lawless immigration policies. The border is in a dire crisis, and strong leadership is needed to help secure the border and prevent the administration from releasing millions more illegal aliens into the U.S. Year after year we see Congress allow for the importation of foreign workers.  Now is the time they need to demonstrate that they are willing to stand with American workers, reject the frivolous demands of the business lobby, and reform our immigration system rather than wreak more havoc.

Ira Mehlman is the media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.