Migrant Visas: A Tiny Step Forward and a Huge Stride Backward

Saving three jobs but losing 1,266

By David North on January 14, 2021

The Trump administration, even its last days, continues to grind out new immigration rules, some better than others. In this case, there was another complex blow to citizen workers.

The latest ruling seems to involve discreet wrist slaps on three of the world's least powerful nations: Mongolia, Samoa, and Tonga; they used to be known as Outer Mongolia, Western Samoa, and the Kingdom of Tonga.

All of them will have their citizens barred from participating in the H-2A (farmworker) and the H-2B (non-ag unskilled labor) programs. Why? Because, according to a Law360 article, the nations had: "high visa overstay rates and noncooperation with [U.S.] deportation proceedings".

There are a number of nations that seek to stall the return of their own deportees, presumably on the rational (but unacceptable) grounds that these poor nations do not need an infusion of bad actors (even though they are always native-born bad actors.) They do so by refusing to issue passports to such people, and we will not deport passport-less people.

And how significant is the level of punishment?

Let's start with Samoa. Lots of (Western) Samoans work illegally in American Samoa, and if they were to be sent home, it would be a major blow to the economy of Samoa (a former New Zealand colony). But American Samoa, alone of our territories, has its own immigration laws, and so no H-2As or H-2Bs ever work there.

All three nations are distant from Mainland America, and H-2A and H-2B employers understandably prefer to hire their migrant labor from less distant nations, as they consider travel costs.

Looking at State Department statistics for a typical year, 2018, we find that in the whole year there were two H-2B visas issued to Mongolians, one H-2A visa for the same country, and none of either kind issued to anyone from Samoa or Tonga.

The State Department will have to look to other tools if it wants those three nations to accept the deportees.

Meanwhile, there has been a remarkable (and regrettable) step backward in this exotic migration field. To quote the Law360 article again:

The department cut Filipinos from the H-2B program last year based on visa overstay rates. However, DHS determined that ongoing military construction in Guam — which is part of Washington, D.C.'s larger effort to realign American defense forces away from Japan — would require a larger workforce than currently available.

"As such, to ensure the labor needs of the U.S. military realignment projects in Guam ... are met properly, adding the Philippines to the H-2B eligible countries list serves the U.S. interest," DHS said.

The military in this instance, despite its huge budget, is asking that the interests of citizen workers be sacrificed to save DOD a small sum, and won. The State Department, instead of letting alien Filipino workers into Guam, alone, has let Filipino H-2Bs come into the whole nation. (In 2018, 1,266 new visas were issued to Filipino H-2B workers according to the previously cited dataset; most of this workforce is already in the U.S. and does not need new visas.)

The State Department is supposed to be capable of nuances, but not this time.

The labor market score on this latest foreign worker move (using 2018 data) is this: We saved three jobs (held by Mongolians) and we lost 1,266 jobs to residents of the Philippines.

It is ever thus.