Federal Agencies on H-2B: DHS Hits a Home Run, GAO an Own Goal

By David North on April 4, 2020

If this were a report on the nation's vanishing sports pages, the headlines would be that the Department of Homeland Security hit a grand slam homer with its actions on the H-2B foreign worker program (for unskilled, non-ag workers) on April 2, while on the day before the Government Accountability Office (GAO) scored an own goal.

With the newspapers reporting more than 10 million Americans out of work, the GAO report was headed "H-2B Visas: Additional Steps Needed to Meet Employers' Hiring Needs and Protect American Workers".

The next day, DHS announced that it was reversing itself and had frozen an earlier decision to double the number of these alien workers for the last half of this fiscal year, putting in doubt 35,000 additional H-2B visas for landscapers, wait staff, and the like.

One must admit that DHS used a tweet to announce its laudable decision, while GAO (an arm of Congress) published a 70-page report, complete with tables and more than 100 footnotes, a report long in the making.

Here is what Law360 had to say about the DHS decision:

Businesses will no longer be able to bring on new migrant workers under the H-2B visa program, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Thursday as the spread of the new coronavirus spurred 10 million initial unemployment claims.

DHS said on Twitter that it had put "on hold" a rule that would have authorized 35,000 additional H-2B visas for employers who didn't win a coveted H-2B visa in the federal government's lottery, including 20,000 for April 1 start dates.

"DHS's rule on the H-2B cap is on hold pending review due to present economic circumstances. No additional H-2B visas will be released until further notice," the tweet said.

By this decision, the DHS did exactly what my colleague Jessica Vaughan suggested on March 18 in a blog titled "DHS Should Retract Expansions of H-2B Visa Workers".

Subsequent announcements of immense layoffs supported her advice.

Perhaps nothing illustrates the point of view of the GAO than this graphic, which is on the first page of its report:

It shows that employers who get all the H-2Bs they want have better profit margins than some of those who got some, but not all, they had applied for. Should there be anything to worry about other than the profits of these employers — who seem to need semi-indentured foreign workers to make the desired level of profits? Was there a concern for U.S. workers, not hired by those employers? Not in that front-page graphic.

Similarly, on p. 57 of the report, GAO lists 12 experts it consulted. This is an immigration issue, but no entity that is worried about too much migration was consulted, though GAO has talked with CIS staff at other times on other issues. Employers were not so treated.

And given the timing, there was no mention of the 10 million Americans suddenly looking for jobs. Ten million is 285 times as large a number as the 35,000 H-2 B visas under discussion.