Ryan, Ignoring DOL data, Badly Understates Congress' Impact on H-2B

By David North, December 23, 2015

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has substantially under-stated the estimated impact of a congressional sleight-of-hand regarding the number of H-2B alien workers who will, by definition, take jobs away from resident (citizen and green-card) workers.

In a press statement yesterday Ryan said that his critics on this issue were making a "mountain out of a molehill." Depriving Americans of jobs apparently is not something he worries about.

He said that the provision will produce "only" 8,000 extra workers. But the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security earlier this year had set the impact at 50,500 extra workers, as explained below. That's a more than six-to-one difference.

The H-2B program brings under-paid foreign workers into the country to do unskilled, non-agricultural labor, and is heavily used by landscaping companies and touring carnivals, among other employers, to staff their activities.

It is supposed to be a "temporary" worker program, but it routinely uses the workers for ten months of the year, followed by a two-month unpaid vacation over the holidays. The unstated objective of the program is to provide under-market, pliable workers to the employers.

Congress has set an upper limit of 66,000 on the number of workers in the program, but vested interests have persuaded the House and the Senate over the years to define the 66,000 admissions in such a way as to raise those limits substantially without appearing to do so.

The sneaky mechanism used by Congress in the past, and used again in last week's omnibus spending bill is, to quote from the Speaker's press release, designed "to allow a worker who was counted against the cap in the last three years to return in 2006 without being counted against the limit."

The wording above is loaded. It is expressed as a boon for the worker rather than a big favor, in fact, for the exploitative employers. Further it allows, theoretically, a quadrupling of the program, as Mark Krikorian noted in National Review.

As to the actual impact, Ryan quotes an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office of 8,000 more workers, without noting that the CBO sits directly under the thumb of the Speaker and the Majority Leader in the Senate.

This is in sharp contrast to a much more sensible estimate of the extent of the increase over 66,000 that appeared in long, detailed Department of Homeland Security document earlier this year. In that report DHS said that the congressional wording would change 65,000 to 115,500. See page 196 of this 410-page report inserted in the Federal Register of April 29, 2015.

What was the methodology used by the Department of Labor, and cited by DHS? The report stated:

. . .additionally, a nonimmigrant's H-2B classification may be extended for qualifying employment for a total stay of up to three years without being counted against the cap. DOL assumes that half of all H-2B workers entering the United States (33,000) in any year stay at least one additional year, and half of those workers (16,500) will stay a third year, for a total of 115,500 H-2B workers . . .

Small quibble: 65,000 + 33,000 + 16,500 = 114,500.

My sense is that both DOL and DHS are a lot closer to this program than the Olympian congressional Budget Office and the equally Olympian Speaker of the House.

My own guestimate is that two-thirds of the H-2Bs return the following year, and half of that the next year, making the total neither 115,500 nor 114,500 but 132,000, as I noted in an earlier post.