Government Proposes Largely Useless Change in Recruiting Rules for H-2B Program

By David North on November 19, 2018

Suppose you are working for an advertising agency promoting chewing tobacco. The client wants to advertise in two national magazines and your task is to choose which two.

Do you pick Harper's Bazaar and the New Yorker?

Not unless you had already decided to leave the job, or you had a staunch faith in the client's sense of humor.

USCIS, however, has just made a roughly comparable decision. In connection with the H-2B program, it has decided that the unemployed Americans who work in landscaping and forestry, and in similar unskilled occupations, are best recruited through the internet.

Who takes these rough outdoor jobs, at a little more than minimum wage? Guys and gals with computers or smart phones? I doubt it. (Though, as my colleague Preston Huennekens notes, the decline of newspaper help-wanted sections suggests people looking for these jobs aren't reading the paper either.)

Here are the key paragraphs regarding the recent filing in the Federal Register on the subject:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in conjunction with the Department of Labor (DOL), has published a joint notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would modernize the recruitment requirements for employers seeking H-2B nonimmigrant workers to make it easier for U.S. workers to find and fill these open jobs. The H-2B program allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs.

The proposed rule would require electronic advertisements to be posted on the internet for at least 14 days, replacing the print newspaper advertisements that regulations currently require. DHS and DOL believe this is a more effective and efficient way to disseminate information about job openings to U.S. workers.

The advertising requirement in our foreign worker programs has long been a nominal part of it; they have always been a check-the-box-to-appease-the-critics element, and never have been used to really force the would-be foreign-worker employers to get out and actually try to hire U.S. resident workers.

There are really two approaches to this challenge if the government actually wanted, and I am quoting, "to make it easier for U.S. workers to find and fill these open jobs."

The most obvious one would be to lift the wages to a reasonable level, and let the higher wages, rather than advertising, fill the jobs. No administration has been willing to do this.

If the use of advertising to fill the jobs is to be required, why not make this a serious, and expensive, operation that would be strong enough to actually recruit some people and, at the same time, be costly enough to encourage the employers not to use the H-2B program at all?

In addition to such formalities as the use of the internet (proposed) and general-interest newspapers (the current rule, proposed to be eliminated), why not force employers who want to be excused from the American labor market to buy ads on radio stations listened to by potential workers (broadcasting in both English and Spanish), and to pass out flyers at unemployment insurance offices, and, better, at the roadside recruiting areas, and to post signs in both languages at such places. Additionally, paid advertisements specifically in Hispanic and African-American newspapers (which could use the revenue) should also be demanded.

About half the H-2B jobs in recent years (51,305 so far in FY 2017) were landscaping and groundskeeping workers; other occupations with more than 6,000 jobs in the report went to maids and housekeeping cleaners, forest and conservation workers, and carnival workers. The numbers are from a recent DOL report.

I like the term "groundskeeping workers". It summons up stately mansions and elegant golf clubs, locations seemingly dripping in money, but there never is enough of it to pay those outdoor workers a living wage — so H-2B foreigners must be recruited for the task.

Readers are encouraged to comment on the proposed rule here.