U.S. Employers Wanting Foreign Workers Have Oodles of Options

By David North on December 28, 2022

U.S. private sector employers — who often complain about labor shortages — have literally millions of foreign workers to choose from without bringing any more into the country.

A Center for Immigration Studies examination of the more than 50 subclasses of foreign-born workers available for legal employment in the U.S. shows that the overwhelming majority of these categories have no numerical ceilings and that a large majority of the foreign-born workers could be employed without any interaction between the employer and the government.

The CIS study first divided the foreign-born workers into nine major classes, depending on whether there were statutory or regulatory ceilings or not (most had no ceilings), whether or not the employer had to file any documents with the feds (in most cases there was no such requirement), and whether or not the employer would be subsidized by the government for hiring the aliens (subsidies go with only two of the subclasses of aliens — and both are the results of long-standing public policy errors.)

We then ranked the nine classes on their presumed levels of attractiveness to employers, assuming that employers would prefer subsidies to the lack of them, that employers would rather not deal with ceilings, and that they would rather hire without applying for a visa than having to go through that red tape.

The ideal program for employers (if not the nation) is the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for recent alien grads of U.S. universities. There is no ceiling, there are no applications, and there is a hefty 8 percent or so tax break for all the employers and for some of the aliens because no payroll taxes are deducted (to support our Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment insurance programs). That’s Class 1.

At the bottom of the range of attractiveness to employers are two foreign worker programs that require employer visa applications, have numerical ceilings (to protect U.S. workers), and have no subsidies. These are H-1B for high-tech workers and H-2B for non-ag temporary work; they constitute Class 9.

In between there are seven other classes of aliens, mostly available without employer petitions or ceilings of any kind.

Then our study listed more than 50 subclasses of foreign-born workers, grouping them into the nine major classes. These classes and subclasses can be seen in Table 1.

Table 1. Menu for U.S. Employers Who Want to Hire a Foreign-Born Worker

Class Terms Subclass(es)
1 Subsidy, no ceilings, no employer visa, temporary Optional Practical Training for recent alien college grads of U.S. institutions
2 Subsidy, no ceilings, employer visa, temporary H-2A farm workers
3 No subsidy, no ceilings, no employer visa, permanent Green card holders now here
4 No subsidy, no ceilings, no employer visa, temporary Asylees; asylum applicants; DACAs; a subclass of spouses of non-immigrant H-1Bs; all spouses of A-1, A-2, G-1, G-3, G-4, and NATO (1-7) visa holders; TN (employee visa needed, these are NAFTA workers); T-1 to T-6 (trafficking victims and relatives); Temporary Protected Status
5 No subsidy, ceilings, no employer visa, de facto permanent Crime victims (U-1 to 5); refugees
6 No subsidy, no ceilings, employer visa, temporary Most small temporary worker programs: E, J, O, P, Q, R; also H-1C
7 No subsidy, ceilings, no employer visa, permanent The five family-based visa categories for arriving immigrants
8 No subsidy, ceilings, employer visa, permanent The five employment-based visa categories for arriving immigrants
9 No subsidy, ceilings, employer visa, temporary H-2B, H-1B and the H-1B-like programs (E-3, E-3S, H-1 B-1)

What the menu shows is that there are huge numbers of foreign-born workers available to U.S. employers without the need for visa applications and not limited by numerical ceilings; employers would have to dig around to find some of these workers and to compete for their services. (Some employers would rather not do either of these things.)

The largest single group of foreign-born workers that can be hired without government involvement, of course, are those holding green cards in Class 3. Then there are smaller numbers of refugees, asylees, crime victims (U-visas), and DACAs (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, with many of the DACAs approaching 40), all in categories without limits and needing no visa applications. These are all in Classes 4 and 5.

Employers needing well-educated workers without having to file petitions should take a sharp look at the spouses of many nonimmigrant workers who can be hired without paperwork, such as some H-4 spouses of H-1B workers. Many of them are quite handy, being married to the employer’s own H-1Bs. There are other well-educated spouses who relate to other, smaller nonimmigrant categories.

Employers needing non-skilled workers can look at large and growing numbers of people in the temporary protected status (TPS), crime victims (U), and at the large but stable population of DACAs.

Not all of these categories meet the desires of all would-be employers of alien workers. If you are running a farm or a restaurant in Iowa, the fact that you are eligible to hire the spouse of a Norwegian admiral with a NATO-1 visa is not very helpful to you, but as the table shows, there are something like 10 million aliens one can hire without importing any more of them.

Table 2. Approximate Sizes of the Nine Major Classes of Alien Workers Available to U.S. Employers

Class Major Subclass
in the Class
Approximate Size
1 OPT alumni workers 200,000 or so
2 H-2A (ag) workers, at summer peak 300,000 or so
3 Green card holders now here 14,000,000 (some of whom do not work)
4 A mixed group of those temporarily here, including asylum applicants Millions and growing thanks to current border policies
5 Crime victims and refugees Three million refugee admissions since 1975, many of whom are dead or not working; 250,000 or so on, or waiting for, U visas (for crime victims)
6 Those in small foreign-worker programs Hundreds of thousands
7 Arriving family-based immigrants At least 226,000 per year
8 Arriving immigrant workers and dependents 140,000 per year
9 Those in numerically limited foreign-worker programs, such as H-1B and H-2B A million or so

My point is that we should not further strain our infrastructure by bringing in more people than we have now; employers who want to avoid the U.S. labor market have an ample opportunity (if they will only grasp it) to hire all sorts of foreign workers in all sorts of categories.

Methodology. The nine classes in the “Menu” are defined by CIS based on the criteria mentioned above; the 51 subclasses are drawn by CIS from “Directory of Visa Categories”, a State Department publication that warns that it is an only partial list of them. From that list we have deleted categories that do not allow the alien to work in the U.S. (such as tourist visas and border-crossing cards), and those that relate to work, but not to U.S. employers (such as the G visas for workers for international agencies.) The full list of visa categories has 71 nonimmigrant entries, including a few that are rarely, if ever, used.

The rough estimates for the sizes of the nine (CIS-created) classes in the table are estimates based on government statistics and our own calculations. The precise numbers associated with Classes 7 and 8 are drawn from the State Department’s December 2022 Visa Bulletin.