The White House has declared that this is "Buy American, Hire American" week.
The Department of Homeland Security, at just about the same time, took 15,000 potential jobs away from American workers and made them available to aliens. I'm sure I'm not the only writer to point out this irony.
DHS Secretary John Kelly, using powers thrust on him by Congress (powers that he could have ignored), expanded the H-2B temporary worker ceiling for this year by 15,000 slots. The program is for non-skilled, non-agricultural workers. The decision will result, inevitably, in the loss of access to these jobs for U.S. workers.
Only a month earlier, Daniel Costa of the Economic Policy Institute, a well-regarded Washington think tank, testified on the total lack of need for such a program and showed how wages had barely increased in the H-2B part of the labor market, and had fallen in some occupations in the period 2004 to 2014.
Getting beyond the obvious — the terrible timing of the announcement and the lack of any real need for the program — let me turn to two neglected aspects of this situation.
Why Did Congress Handle the Matter as It Did? The straightforward thing to do would be to hold hearings, pass a bill out of committee, and then introduce it on the floor of both the House and the Senate. Then all the senators and House members would have to go on record as being for or against the extra alien workers provision.
Instead the congressional Republican leadership stuck a provision in the temporary funding bill (the continuing resolution, or CR) giving Secretary Kelly the power to expand the number of workers in this category. The secretary gets the blame or the credit, and all the folks on Capitol Hill are free of blame.
That's not the way a democracy is supposed to work.
H-2B Identified as a Form of Corporate Welfare. While I am totally certain of Congress' motivation in giving the hot potato to Secretary Kelly, the next comment can only be called speculation, maybe even optimistic speculation.
It appears to me that the requirement that employers prove they will "suffer irreparable harm" without additional foreign workers will force the chintzy employers using the program to admit to all that they are, in the immortal phrase of our president, "losers".
I understand from a reliable source that, while the needy employers will not have to produce evidence of "substantial financial loss", they will be required to keep (but not share with the public) documentation for three years on these points:
- Evidence that the business can't meet financial or contractual obligations;
- Evidence that the business has an inability to pay debt or bills; or
- Financial statements that show the business is suffering a permanent or severe financial loss.
These requirements are said to be in the forthcoming, detailed Federal Register notice on this subject.
Because of these requirements — and here comes the perhaps mistaken optimism — some employers may avoid seeking any of the extra (and extraneous) 15,000 workers because the award of the workers to them will indicate that they are in financial trouble. Did DHS have this thought in mind? We will probably never know.