The recent decision by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to increase the H-2B low-skilled, non-agricultural foreign worker cap by 20,000 for the first half of fiscal year (FY) 2022 is being praised by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), America’s top business news publication, as a move businesses can “cheer” for. In its laudatory piece commending the Biden administration, the editorial board slights American workers while espousing the myth that there are “jobs Americans won’t do”.
After two generally straightforward paragraphs describing the H-2B increase and the statutory cap, the piece abruptly pivots to the role of attack dog for employers. “Immigration restrictionists say employers could attract more American workers if they raised wages, but they need to get out of their think tanks and talk to employers. Few Americans are willing to relocate every few months for physically demanding seasonal jobs such as shucking oysters in the Gulf Coast or cleaning rooms at Rocky Mountain ski resorts, no matter how much employers pay. So employers year after year rely on the H-2B program,” the editors declare.
Respectfully, perhaps the editors should get out of their country clubs and talk to blue-collar workers rather than taking unsubstantiated claims from employers at face value. As I testified before Congress last year, “Of the 474 unique occupations defined by the Department of Commerce, my colleagues at the Center discovered that just 6 occupations are majority immigrant and in these occupations Americans still account for 46 percent of workers.” After pointing out that many jobs stereotypically thought of as non-native labor are in fact majority native-born, I emphasized there are no jobs Americans won’t do. There are only wages and working conditions they are not willing to accept for the work. Nor should they. By refusing to offer higher wages or conditions to entice Americans to come to work for them, employers create a mirage of a labor “shortage” and point to importing foreign workers as the only solution.
The WSJ editorial board’s use of employers “rely[ing] on the H-2B program” is telling. Employers want to flood the market with labor supply to drive down wages and companies that rely on cheaper, foreign workers have a flawed business model. This is hardly a free market economy but it seems like the WSJ is willing to look the other way on government handouts as long as executives can maximize their profits.
Left unanswered in the editors’ piece is whether there are any limits to immigration the WSJ supports. “The DHS decision to issue 20,000 more visas with 6,500 specifically allocated for workers from Northern Triangle countries and Haiti is a good start, but not nearly enough,” they write. How much is “enough” and what jobs will blue-collar Americans land in the alternative? Perhaps the editorial board will get to those questions after the next round of golf.