The other day I wrote about the Biden administration’s decision to allow in 22,000 additional H-2B low-skilled, non-agricultural temporary foreign workers for the remainder of the fiscal year. My colleague David North previously noted that, within the additional H-2B visas, there is a 6,000 visa carve-out just for alien workers from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to “expand lawful pathways for opportunity in the United States”. The point I was making in my previous post was that this decision sends a clear message that the Biden administration prefers foreign workers over getting Americans back to work.
But there is more to this story. Looked at through the lens of the government’s response to Covid-19, it is the latest example of President Biden treating aliens, both legal and illegal, better than law-abiding U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.
Last month, I wrote about the Biden administration’s decision to stop applying Title 42’s emergency health authority, permitting the government to turn away all aliens at the border, to unaccompanied alien children (UACs). Yet at the same time Biden was allowing UACs into the country, the United States, Canada, and Mexico issued a joint statement that these shared borders remain closed to “non-essential travel”. This blanket exemption of UACs from Title 42 created an optic of these illegal aliens being considered “essential travel” by the Biden administration.
Now the H-2B increase announcement corresponds with the State Department’s decision to add 116 countries to the “Do Not Travel” advisory list, citing a “very high level of COVID-19”. According to State, “Travel Advisories follow a consistent format and use plain language to help U.S. citizens find and use important security information. Travel Advisories apply up to four standard levels of advice, describe the risks, and provide clear actions U.S. citizens should take to help ensure their safety.”
The four levels are described as:
Level 1 - Exercise Normal Precautions: This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risk. There is some risk in any international travel. Conditions in other countries may differ from those in the United States and may change at any time.
Level 2 - Exercise Increased Caution: Be aware of heightened risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
Level 3 - Reconsider Travel: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
Level 4 – Do Not Travel: This is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks. During an emergency, the U.S. government may have very limited ability to provide assistance. The Department of State advises that U.S. citizens not travel to the country or to leave as soon as it is safe to do so. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
Circling back to H-2Bs, Mexican nationals utilize most of these worker visas. This is unsurprising given that the close proximity makes it easier for recruitment purposes. And Mexico’s travel advisory level? Level 4: Do Not Travel. And the Northern Triangle countries given the 6,000 H-2B carve-out? Guatemala and Honduras: Level 4: Do Not Travel; El Salvador: Level 3: Reconsider Travel.
So Americans are advised by the U.S. government to not travel to three of the four countries and to reconsider traveling to the fourth because of the “very high levels” of Covid-19 in those countries. If it is unsafe for Americans to travel to those countries, shouldn’t it likewise be unsafe for nationals from those countries to travel to the United States due to the high likelihood they might be bringing Covid-19 with them?
Too often the immigration debate is conducted in a silo, ignoring the clear link between immigration policy and employment, healthcare, environment, schools, and other issues. In the context of a global pandemic, the Biden administration’s silo approach to immigration could very likely cause a spike in positive tests and introduce new variants at a time that many Americans are eager to return to a pre-Covid normalcy.