New Guestworker Regulations: One Step Forward and One Step Back

By David North on February 15, 2010

The Obama Administration has taken one step forward, and another step back, in two released regulations about nonimmigrant workers.

The backwards step is full of irony, because it allows some of the largest, richest banks in the United States to renew their hiring of H-1B nonimmigrant workers. These banks received billions in various financial breaks from Uncle Sam, and are paying their top executives multi-million-dollar bonuses. These are the banks which have been permitted by a new decision of the Department of Homeland Security to save a few dollars by opting out of the American labor market, to bring in technical workers from other nations.

For a summary of the adverse impact on resident workers made by the H-1B program, see the blog by my colleague John Miano.

The banks getting the favorable (to them) ruling are the ones that have repaid their Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, which represented the most obvious segment of the bailout given to Wall Street.

According to Immigration Daily these banks "are thus freed from mandatory compliance with the filing requirements of that of an 'H-1B dependent' employer, as defined by INA 212(n)(3)." The institutions include: JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, US Bancorp, Capital One, State Street Corp., American Express, BB&T, Bank of New York Mellon Corp., and Northern Trust Corp.

Now the mandatory compliance provisions were never very strict, in the first place. The banks were allowed to keep all their then-current H1-B workers, and were allowed to extend the time period of those with expiring documents; they simply were not allowed to hire new H-1B workers without going through some additional paperwork.

While this H-1B decision was clearly a setback to residents wanting to work for the big banks, the other decision, by the U.S. Department of Labor (where I toiled a few decades ago) was favorable to resident workers.

The best one-line summary of the value of the DOL decision came in this AP story: "Farm owners have vehemently opposed changes to the H-2A Guest Worker Program since the current administration first attempted to reverse the rules last year."

The Obama Administration has moved to eliminate Bush Administration decisions that had had the "effect of depressing wages and made it harder for domestic workers to apply for the jobs."

"The bottom line is we're going to see a major reduction in utilization of the H2-A program," one of the growers' lobbyists told the Associated Press. (H2-A is the nonimmigrant worker program for agriculture.)

That simply means more jobs, and higher wages, for resident workers. Most of us think that's a good thing.

Maybe the current Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, should have a heart-to-heart chat with Janet Napolitano, Secretary of DHS, on how U.S. workers should be treated.

They might both think back to the good old days, before World War II, when the entire immigration function was controlled by the nation's first female cabinet member, Frances Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor. When the war came, and enemy aliens needed to be registered (and watched), the immigration function was moved to the Justice Department.