Using 10,000 H-2B jobs for the Northern Triangle to Keep 50,000 Families at Home

By David North on March 10, 2020

If the Department of Homeland Security plays it right, it can use the 10,000 jobs set aside for H-2B workers from the Northern Triangle nations of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) to keep 50,000 families from those three nations from migrating. H-2B workers are non-skilled, non-agricultural workers, holding temporary visas.

This will take some fast footwork on the part of the government, and a certain amount of open-mindedness. Further, this plan for keeping the 50,000 families in the Northern Triangle, rather than them attempting to cross to the States, will cost U.S. taxpayers nothing other than some administrative expenses.

It will give the 50,000 Northern Triangle families the alternative of a temporary job in the United States, or a small consolation prize of about $187.50 in cash. Every one of the no more than 50,000 applicants for these jobs would win something tangible.

And best of all, America would have, in effect, tied 50,000 families to their homelands for another year.

What we are proposing is the Win-Win Northern Triangle Lottery. This is how it would work:

  1. DHS has already announced that it will set aside 10,000 H-2B slots for the second half of this fiscal year for people from the three nations, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, as we reported earlier. It has not described the procedures to be used for the selection of the 10,000; it should do something creative with these 10,000 rather than simply letting low-wage employers pick them as might happen if matters are left as they are.
  2. The stated objective of the set-aside was to give at least some families in the Northern Triangle an option of working legally, if temporarily, in the United States, as well as to let some H-2B employers expand their use of the program.
  3. The H-2B workers to be hired would have to be drawn from a pool of no more than 50,000 who had registered in the Northern Triangle at a U.S. government facility.
  4. There would be a small-scale accompanying lottery that would secure all of its funding from employers wanting to use the program, from employers who actually benefit from the program, and from Northern Triangle workers seeking, or receiving, H-2B work assignments.
  5. Let's say that this year the 10,000 slots will be used — industry has asked for more, generally, than were granted — and that the worker benefits would be allocated to no more than 10,000 of the first 50,000 applicants for these jobs.
  6. The fees might be set as follows:
    • Would-be employers: $50 per job sought
    • Actual employers: $500 per worker
    • Would-be workers: $10 each
    • Actual workers: $100 each
  7. Assuming that employers seek 20,000 jobs and secure 10,000, and assuming that the 50,000 applicants would seek the jobs, and 10,000 would get them, this would produce these flows of funds:
    • Would-be employers: $1 million
    • Actual employers: $5 million
    • Would-be workers: $500,000
    • Actual workers: $1 million
    • Total available for the losers: $7.5 million, or a minimum of $187.50 each
    The government should subsidize the program if the applicant flow does not meet the $187.50 level of awards; if the number of jobs sought by the employers exceeds the expected 20,000 then the consolation awards would be a little larger.
  8. There would be a summertime pay-out of a minimum of $187.50 per non-selected worker, but only to those who applied in person for the money within 72 hours of notice within the homeland.
  9. H-2B employers would have to recruit their workers from within the population covered by the Win-Win Northern Triangle Lottery. In order to qualify for work in the United States, the potential workers would have to be over 21, married, and landowners — all elements that would seem to discourage staying in the United States illegally after the work period. Further, would-be workers with close relatives in the United States and college graduates would be barred from the program. In future years, arrangements would be made to give workers who had not secured visas the prior year a better statistical chance during the second and third years of the program.
  10. In future years, one hopes that the Northern Triangle set-aside would be larger, without further increasing the overall national H-2B numbers. Perhaps Northern Triangle workers would be allowed no more than two years of consecutive H-2B work, and then would be furloughed for a year, before seeking another H-2B job, to keep the pool as large as possible.

While $187.50 does not seem to be much in U.S. dollars, it is worth much more in the Northern Triangle. Consider that the nominal per capita GDP is $2,185 in Honduras, as opposed to $33,706 in the United States; that measure is higher in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Thus we would move some 10,000 H-2B jobs from one group of aliens (mostly from Mexico) to those from the Northern Triangle, and hope to tie down 40,000 other Northern Triangle families.

There would have to be safeguards so that no illegitimate fees were charged to the workers (often a problem in foreign-worker programs) and that only genuine residents of the Northern Triangle were selected. Arrangements for would-be workers to register would have to be made, using care to make sure that only those clearly in the Northern Triangle in the spring of 2020 and registered with a U.S. embassy or consulate, could enter the lottery. To keep middle-class profit seekers out of the program, steep penalties (including some jail time arranged by local authorities) would be needed in cases where the selected worker decided he or she did not want to be an H-2B after all.

Further, the government should be careful to pay the $187.50 checks only to those who sought them in person, at a government facility, within 72 hours or so of notification. Another possibility would be to not limit the number of applicants, but in that case the size of the consolation prize would be reduced.

I recognize that such a program would both offer some administrative challenges, and opportunities for fraud. H-2B employers would object, as well. But setting up a system to use 10,000 jobs to hold five times as many families out of the illegal migration stream would seem to be well worth the effort.