How can mighty Google and Amazon, offering salaries in excess of $130,000 a year, share a nationwide, immigration-related list of 18 companies including several chicken-slaughtering plants and a small restaurant, with the latter promising to pay its workers $8.25 an hour?
Only in America’s complex (and dysfunctional) foreign-worker program is this possible, and it takes a bit of explaining.
The table below shows a list of the ranking employers seeking foreign workers through a particular immigration channel; seven of them offer average salaries of more than $90,000 a year; 10 of the companies listed pay between $17,000 and $26,000 a year; and only one is in the middle, at about $79,000 a year.
2020 Green Card Sponsors for F-1 Visa Holders
|Green Card Petitions||Average
|6||Jcg Foods Of Georgia D/B/A Koch Foods||55||$20,375||Much sued1|
|7||Koch Foods Of Gadsden Dba Koch Foods||48||$21,242||Much sued1|
|10||Jks&K (a poultry outfit)||38||$17,306||That’s $8.32/hour|
|11||Mar-Jac Poultry, Georgia||35||$25,198||Once raided by FBI2|
|13||Island Subway||29||$17,178||Tiny operation4|
|16||Merit Integrated Logistics||28||$23,474|
|18||Millard Mall Services||27||$25,230|
Source: Myvisajobs calculations from DOL data. These petitions are in a needed-worker category, and the aliens’ applications would, if approved, put them on a path from F-1 status to green card status with the support of the Department of Labor. There is some additional data for each employer in the database, such as the nations of origin of the workers, the person who signs the papers, and the nonimmigrant visas the aliens had at the time of application.
1 These are both much-sued employers: neither relates to the Koch Brothers. There are 416 entries for Koch Foods on the PACER list of federal court cases; in most instances they are listed as defendant.
2 Mar-Jac, in an odd move for a slaughterhouse, recently purchased the campus of a small non-profit university in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and renamed it Fairfax University of America (FXUA). A member of the Mar-Jac Board of Directors, Ahmed Alwani, is president of FXUA. The little university, which majors in foreign students, apparently recently changed its allegiance from the Turkey-based Gulen cult to that of the Muslim Brotherhood. The raid was several years ago.
3 Each detailed listing has a tally of the aliens’ citizenship; in this case it is: Brazil (100), Albania (56), Bangladesh (28), Turkey (27), Nepal (20), Vietnam (17), Thailand (14), Pakistan (13), Dominican Republic (11), and Venezuela (7). How those numbers mesh with the 30 in the table is a puzzle.
4 See text.
The low-paid workers are here in the small class of “other workers” in a subset of the EB-3 class. The higher-paid workers are in the more mainstream EB-2 and EB-3 classifications.
What can they possibly have in common? And, more importantly, why did the U.S. Department of Labor agree to (albeit two years ago) the importation of alien workers at $8.25 an hour?
More precisely, the list is of the companies that have filed applications for green cards for some of their workers in FY 2020, with those workers all being in F-1 (student) status.
This not a massive part of our immigration system; among the largest 100 firms in this category, they filed 2,766 of these petitions, and the 100th and 101st firms on the list were seeking only four workers each. Of the 2,766, the majority (1,947) were paying $90,000 a year or more, leaving an interesting subset of 819 petitions filed by outfits offering less than $90,000 a year and most of those well under $30,000 a year.
We have cited the sandwich shop with the lowest rate of pay, $8.25 an hour. The filer offering the most money was the Boston Consulting Group, where a much younger Mitt Romney, now a U.S. senator (R-Utah), worked 46 years ago before he moved on to Bain Capital. BCG offered the 11 aliens on their payroll $216,841 a year, or $104.25 an hour. (BCG is on a longer list but is not on the one shown above.) That firm cannot be charged with using the immigration system to depress American wages!
My assumption, incidentally, is that the better-paid among these workers, the large majority, were destined to wait for years to be admitted in the mainline EB-2 and EB-3 categories. These are classes, respectively, of “professionals with advanced degrees or aliens of exceptional ability” and “skilled workers and professionals”. (EB stands for employment-based.)
The ones hired by the poultry plants, on the other hand, presumably belonged to a small subset of EB-3, “needed unskilled workers”. According to Table 7 in the 2019 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, there were only 818 of these admitted from abroad, and only 1,504 adjusted from other immigration statuses (apparently including a number of students). Most employers and most Americans have never heard of this program and it is rarely discussed, even in migration-focused circles; one of our posts from two years ago is an exception to the silence on the program.
The strange match of Google to the slaughterhouses also reflects the huge range of skills within the F-1 population; some with these visas are high school kids without a word of English, others are multilinguals with remarkable technical skills who are about to get their PhDs.
The case of the restaurant, Island Subway, and its $8.25/hour wage offer is intriguing. It is a two-unit chain of sandwich shops on ritzy Hilton Head, a near-shore island in South Carolina. Most of the applicants were from Bangladesh, one of the poorest nations in the world. Most held F-1 status, but six are noted as F-2s (who are not allowed to work). It apparently has over 78 employees total. How such a small operation learned of the tiny “other workers” category is an interesting question. There are indications that when Covid-19 appeared on the scene many of the applications were allowed to expire, unused. Did these workers know that their path to green card status had been dropped?
Let’s move from an immigration anomaly to a set of (admittedly numerically small) immigration policy problems.
Policy Matters. The first problem is that the slaughterhouses and other low-wage employers are getting a substantial subsidy from Uncle Sam for hiring F-1 student workers rather than the expected H-2B aliens. Employers of F-1 students do not have to pay the normal payroll taxes that support the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. The second Bush administration did this to us when they adopted the Optional Practical Training program (OPT). While not an ideal program, the employers of H-2B workers do have to pay payroll taxes, as do the workers.
The second problem is that in several cases, notably that of Island Subway, employers filed for adjustments of status from F-2 to green card, despite the fact that F-2 aliens are not allowed to work. There are two groups of questions here: 1) To what extent were they working illegally, and to what extent were they spouses of working F-1s? and 2) Were the filings illegal acts or were their acceptances just terrible public policy?
We started to check on the extent that other low-wage employers on the list had F-2 workers among their beneficiaries; we checked five of the employers and found that all five had from one to 12 F-2s listed.
The third and largest problem is the matter of labor standards. Let’s quote from a Department of Labor publication dealing with this foreign-worker program:
The DOL must certify to the USCIS that there are not sufficient U.S. workers able, willing, qualified and available to accept the job opportunity in the area of intended employment and that employment of the foreign worker will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. [Emphasis added.]
Of course, at the wages offered, there are no U.S. workers willing to accept these jobs. But how can the Labor Department, with a straight face, rule that bringing in foreign workers at $8.25 an hour does not “adversely affect the wages” in this situation?
Somewhat Similar Situation. Meanwhile, on November 12 the New York Times, often the subject of criticism from those of us who want to enforce the immigration laws, published a praise-worthy article on how another bit of the immigration system is being used in the poverty-racked Mississippi Delta, of all places, to replace long-serving citizen (Black) farmworkers with whites imported from the former land of apartheid, South Africa. To pour salt into the wounds, the whites, while doing identical work, are paid more than the Blacks. Let’s hope that the congressman from the area, the very senior Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), jumps all over the Labor Department for allowing this to happen.
The author is grateful to Matthew Bonness for his assistance.