Administration, Bowing to Employers, Adds to Foreign Worker Population

Earlier today, the administration, presumably bowing to employer demands, proposed to give permission to work in the United States to perhaps 100,000 additional foreign workers, none being admitted because of their skills.

The DHS press release was headlined, misleadingly:

DHS Announces Proposal to Attract and Retain Highly Skilled Immigrants

If I were a grade-school English teacher marking that sentence — bearing in mind what is true in this case — I would give the student a 30 percent grade, a deep failure.

There are 10 words in the headline. The first three words: "DHS Announces Proposal" are correct; the next seven words are not. I will get back to the exact nature of the inaccuracies shortly.

The workers involved in the more important of the two proposals would not be receiving authorization to work in the United States because of their own skills, but rather because of who they are married to. They are spouses of H-1B workers. They are currently in the H-4 category, able to live in the United States and cross its borders, but not to work.

The administration proposes that some H-4s be allowed to work because their spouses' employers have filed for green cards for the H-1Bs.

There would be two main effects of this proposal: 1) nearly 100,000 jobs now held by legal residents (citizens and green card holders) would now be open to these spouses; and 2) to the extent that the spouses now can work, the employers would be relieved of any pressure to offer higher wages to their indentured H-1B workers. So prosperous employers would benefit, and citizens and green card holders would suffer.

And, given the extent of unemployment in the United States, do we really, really need an estimated 100,000 new workers? I don't think so.

The word "attract" is hardly applicable, as these workers and their spouses are already living in the United States, nor is the word "retain" appropriate, because both these workers and their spouses have very solid reasons for staying in the United States because they are, by definition, on the path to green cards. Nor are the spouses necessarily "highly skilled", though some may be.

Finally, they are not "immigrants," though they may be in the future.

So seven of the words are wrong, and only the first three are correct, hence a failing mark.

My understanding, from my earlier estimates of the size of the total H-1B population (around 800,000) and green card filings for a subset of them is that there are about 100,000 H-4 spouses in the proposed category; most are women, and most are probably from India, because most H-1Bs are from that country.

The other proposed ruling, announced at the same time, which we are told will some day appear in the Federal Register, eases the paperwork requirements for small groups of skilled workers from Chile, Singapore, and Australia, as well as for some distinctly non-skilled workers now living in what the press release calls the "Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island". The word is "Islands"; there are more than one of them.

Those in the Marianas, CW-1 workers, with the exception of some badly treated Filipino school teachers, are the folks who do the physical labor in these islands just north of Guam; they are maids, construction workers, retail clerks, and the like. They are, despite the headline, not skilled. I had some contact with this population while working for the Office of Insular Affairs, at the U.S. Department of the Interior, in the late 1990s.

For earlier blogs on H-4 visas, see here and for the alien workers in the Mariana Islands, see here.