The Center for Immigration Studies hosted a panel discussion on twenty actions the president could take immediately that could potentially reduce the number of temporary foreign workers by 1.2 million, or nearly 50 percent.
Center for Immigration Studies
Director of Policy Studies
Center for Immigration Studies
MARK KRIKORIAN: Hello. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
And today we’re going to be talking with our director of policy studies, Jessica Vaughan, who has an enormous amount of experience in this area. And she has led the preparation of a report that we posted at the end of last week on our website, CIS.org, about listing the specific things the president could do to reduce the number of foreign workers either coming in or already here because of the extraordinary level of unemployment that we’re experiencing because of the shutdown.
More than 30 million people have filed for unemployment. The unemployment numbers from April, which reflect the beginning of the month, show well over 20 million people out of work officially – the highest rate of unemployment, almost 15 percent, since the Great Depression. And when this month’s numbers are reported in June, those numbers will be even higher. There’s simply no question about it.
And so the president last month tweeted out that he was going to halt immigration. Everybody got excited. Then he issued a presidential proclamation, like an executive order but it’s called something else – I don’t know why – that halted a very small sliver of new green-card arrivals, new permanent immigrants, but did not deal with all of the various so-called nonimmigrant programs, which is to say guest-worker programs. But in that proclamation, the president said the administration was looking at what measures to take to limit guest-worker admissions to make sure that it’s Americans who get the jobs when they start opening up again and not people from abroad.
So Jessica and several other people on our staff put together a report listing 20 things the president could do right away and several other regulatory changes that would take some more time to do. And it’s important both to help the administration, we hope, think through what they’re going to do – and the proclamation on these questions should be out at some point soon – but also it can serve as a yardstick, if you will, to compare to what the presidential proclamation on this actually does when it comes out, whether it’s this week or next week or at some point soon, to compare the two of them and see whether the administration actually did everything it could do.
So Jessica’s going to explain the background of this, what the recommendations are, and then we’ll take some questions. You can send your questions either on Twitter at @CIS_org – that’s the Twitter handle – or email them to M-R-T – [email protected]. And we’ll get the questions and we’ll take them after Jessica makes her presentation. Jessica, it’s all yours.
JESSICA M. VAUGHAN: Thanks. And so what I’d like to do is go through some of the things we discuss in our report and show people all of the different temporary work visa categories that we think should be on the table for at least considering, and also temporary work permits that are issued each year, and talk about how to ease back into some of these programs much along the same lines as we are doing already with this pandemic, suggesting kind of a phased-in resumption of these programs that would also give the opportunity for reforming these programs before they are brought back, if they are brought back. And, Mark, please chime in if you have any questions or think I should explain anything a little bit differently. You know, we can kind of have more of a casual conversation if you like, rather than just a presentation. But I can just launch in. We’ve got some –
MR. KRIKORIAN: Please do.
MS. VAUGHAN: We’ve got – our report is on our website and we’ve got some tables from that report that we can put up on the screen so people can see a little bit more easily what I’m talking about.
So on Thursday (sic; Friday), May 22nd, is the date that the president has asked for recommendations from the immigration agencies. That’s when the review expires on the – on the first proclamation and also, hopefully, when we’ll see some announcements on these temporary work visa programs and work permits that the government issues.
And as Mark said, there are about 20 short-term things that we propose. But I also want to talk about some longer-term needs as well, because as most people realize there is a limit to what the president can do on immigration issues because most of the visa programs were created by Congress and with limitations set by Congress. However, the work permits are largely discretionary, and so the president does have a lot of authority to curb use of those programs and issuances of those work permits in a way that simply isn’t possible with temporary worker visas.
And what a lot of people aren’t aware of is that the number of work permits that are issued by the government is actually far greater than the number of people who come in on new work visas. In 2019, our immigration agencies issued about 900,000 temporary work visas. That’s new workers arriving on visas from overseas for the most part. But at the same time, the government issued about 1.8 million work permits in about 60 different categories. We’re going to focus today on the ones that are most significant for – and the most, to say it crudely, expendable, or at least the types of work permits that should be focused on in order to create job opportunities for U.S. workers.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Jessica, if you don’t mind, could I just clarify for people? Because I really didn’t understand this well enough until I read it, that when you get a visa for a work program, that visa lets you work. That’s what you show when you get a job. The work permits are for people whose visa status, assuming they’re here legally, does not let them work. So it’s – in other words, it’s an extra thing that they – because whatever – maybe they came as tourists, maybe they came as something else. Their visa doesn’t let them work. So this is on top of their nonwork visa, whereas other people have work visas so they don’t need these extra work permits. It took me a little while to get that clear in my own head. Sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt, but –
MS. VAUGHAN: No, that’s exactly right. If you have a work visa, whether it’s as an agricultural worker or an H-1B white-collar visa worker or an exchange program visitor, your visa is your work permit. The work permits – or, I should say, is in effect your work permits. The actual work permits, which are also known as employment authorization documents or EADs, these are issued to a variety of different categories, but generally people who came in on a temporary visa that did not give them work authorization or people who came illegally and have asked for relief that comes with a work permit, like an asylum applicant or the DACA program or TPS. And then some work permits are issued to people who are in what I call pre-immigrant status, like someone comes in on a fiancé visa and you have 90 days before you have to get married. Those people get a 90-day work permit until they get their actual green card.
I don’t think it would be appropriate to cut off work permits to many of the people in that latter category, for example fiancées, because they are considered pre-immigrants. Refugees are in the same situation. They have a year before they need to ask for their green card, and so they get an EAD in the meantime, often. But what I think the president should focus on is these categories that we’re going to talk about that, first of all, were not specifically authorized by Congress, which are giving a lot of noncitizens the ability to work and which are not really necessary to have for the operation of visa programs or for any other reason. And there’s quite a few of them. I mean, I think in total, with cutting the work permits and the temporary visas, the president could create about 1.8 million new job opportunities for U.S. workers.
So let’s talk about what these categories are. And again, I want to emphasize that in our report, the 20 ideas calling for things that can be done on a very short-term basis, but for the long – I mean, it’s not going to be a short-term unemployment – high unemployment situation that we find ourselves in. Most economists believe that the disruption to our economy is going to last for a much longer period for 60 or 90 days that a proclamation might be in effect. Some of these visa suspensions are going to have to be in place for much longer if we are to allow the labor market to recover to the benefit of U.S. workers, who should be the top priority. So let’s start with the – and I – actually, I would add some of them probably never should be restored, but that’s another – that’s another question.
Let’s start with the temporary visa programs, which – and I want to show you, our first table is – describes these visa programs. These are just the work-visa programs, and there are about seven of them in particular that are most noteworthy.
One of them is the first category listed there, which is the E-visa category, which is treaty investors, and their workers. And that brings in about – last year it was about 60,000 people. This is noncitizens who make an investment or start a business and then are giving temporary work visas for themselves, their families have work permission, and also they’re allowed to sponsor employees for those businesses. These don’t have to create jobs for Americans. Many of them do, but they really are often self-contained businesses started by noncitizens and where most if not all of the employees are also on temporary work visas. That seems like – you know, that’s one that should definitely be suspended for the short term. And these – the people who come in on these investor visas are from countries with which we have treaties, and so Americans have the same privileges in those countries as well. Ours is a little bit different in that we’re very generous in allowing these investors to bring in employees as well, not just to start a business here but to bring in workers to staff that business. And you know, one of the classic cases is, like, a restaurant, an ethnic restaurant where a foreign investor opens it up but then tells the government that he has to bring in all of the staff for the restaurant to work there.
So these are, I think, of dubious value to our economy, and we need to really look closely at whether these are simply a way to get around our green-card restrictions or are actually bringing in the right kind of foreign investment that’s going to create jobs for Americans. So we propose that this program should be suspended for a 60- or 90-day period and examined, and maybe this is one that could come back with appropriate reforms that are not going to disadvantage American workers.
Secondly, there are the H visas: H-1B, which is white-collar visa workers working mostly in knowledge jobs – it’s overwhelmingly employees who are working for labor brokers in the information technology sector, but also many other jobs like accounting, teaching, nursing, and so on – 190,000 visas last year; seasonal agricultural workers and seasonal nonagricultural, or seasonal nonfarm jobs, the H-2B program. All of these H-visa programs, the visas are approved on the basis of a labor-condition attestation it’s called, an LCA, in which the employer has to make certain promises to the government that – first of all, that they’re paying a certain wage to the workers, and that they’re not disadvantaging U.S. workers or taking away job opportunities, or that they’re – that U.S. workers know about these job openings.
And the requirements are a little bit different for each one of these programs, but the idea here – what they have in common is that the approval for these visas was based on an economy that is no longer with us. Conditions have changed completely. So there’s a real question as to whether these programs should be allowed to continue in the near future, given the fact that we have so many Americans and legal immigrants out of work. And so what we’re recommending that the Trump administration do is suspend all of the new arrivals, and then open up these labor-condition attestations and look at them again and evaluate the approval of these visas in light of our current labor-market situation, and at a minimum only allow the most highly paid workers or the workers in which the employer can still demonstrate that this is not going to disadvantage U.S. workers. And this would open up job opportunities for several hundred thousand Americans or legal immigrant workers, potentially, both in jobs not requiring a lot of education and skills and jobs for college graduates in information and technology and other industries. This would give real relief to Americans whose livelihoods have been lost because of this pandemic shutdown.
The next category –
MR. KRIKORIAN: Jessica, if I could just – could I insert just on this question? People may look at these H visas and say, well, they’re farmworkers, and some of them are. And they – you know, farmers may not be able to find immediate workers for – to go out in the fields and pick vegetables, although I wouldn’t even concede that, but it’s possible. But the H-2B visa, these are jobs that Americans do already. I mean, most people who do landscaping – that’s the biggest category – are, in fact, native-born Americans. Amusement-park workers come under this. Why there should be any of them at all it’s not clear to me now. I’m not sure what amusement park is going to be open. But the point is, these are jobs – hundreds of thousands, as you suggest – that are mainly done by Americans already, so this is not an issue of a(n) immigrant-specific occupation that there’s no Americans who are going to fill it at whatever unemployment level. These are jobs that even when unemployment was low were mostly done by native-born Americans.
MS. VAUGHAN: That’s right, and there are a lot of people who would like to have those jobs. I think one of the problems in the operation of these programs is that the workers have become almost a commodity and a lot of the recruitment is done by staffing companies, whether for the white-collar jobs or for the farm jobs or the so-called seasonal jobs. And they have their own networks for recruiting, and they promise employers that they’re going to take care of all their hiring needs and provide them with workers without any hassle, and so a lot of these jobs are not even ever really available to U.S. workers. In fact, you know, they advertise in places where job seekers in this country are not going to be looking, or they simply recruit directly overseas rather than in the United States, and so there are some structural problems in these.
And I agree, I think this is often much more of an issue of employers wanting these workers rather than needing them. And that’s why, you know, a suspension on these categories would give time to implement regulations for the longer term that could correct a lot of the problems in this program and also I think be a good opportunity to test how much these workers are actually needed or if there are, in fact, American workers who would take these jobs, you know, now that their other options are limited. So this would be a good time to try it out.
So, you know, I think – I think the Trump administration should be looking at this in both the short term and the long term for what – you know, what kind of programs we really should be having and then take it to Congress, ultimately, to change. But there are regulatory changes that can be done, as well. There’s an H-1B reform regulation that’s been drafted that hasn’t been put forward by the administration that should be. So there’s much that can be done on that.
MR. KRIKORIAN: In a sense, to use a metaphor, Jessica, some of these employers are hooked. They’re addicted to these programs, and this is an opportunity to break them of the addiction and to see whether they can get by without this infusion of foreign labor. And I think we’ll find that they can.
MS. VAUGHAN: Right. And I think the government should see if it can help with recruiting in some ways, by setting up job banks or, you know, working with these employers to help them figure out how they can connect with workers like the state of Arkansas and the state of Mississippi have done in connecting unemployed and furloughed veterans and people in the reserves and National Guard to do farm work. So there – you know, there are ways to do this. Visa workers should be our last resort, never our first resort in dealing with any labor shortage that might exist.
So let’s talk about another one of the big numbers programs that needs to be suspended, and actually already has by – been suspended by the State Department because of the concern of spreading disease, are the exchange-worker programs known as the J visa. A lot of people associate this visa with Fulbright scholars or high-school exchange scholars, but in fact more than 200,000 of them are working in the United States – that’s the whole purpose of the exchange, is to work here.
And the second table I have that we – if we could switch to that, lists all the different programs under the J-visa umbrella, and as you can see many of them are straight-out work programs from physicians to au pairs, camp counselors. And the biggest one is known as the Summer Work Travel program, which became infamous because of lax oversight by the State Department, was a naked cheap-labor program in which a lot of the young people who came from other countries were exploited and had terrible experiences here. There are so many of these programs that can be cut. Two-thirds of the J-visa program is workers, and those should all be put on hold until we have a chance to look at the categories and see which ones are appropriate to resume. And this is an area in which the president has a lot of authority, and the State Department can participate in restarting it in a way that’s greatly downsized with better protections for the participants and better rules to make sure that people can’t use this as a way to bypass U.S. workers. The Summer Work Travel program, as I said in particular, but also there are programs for postdocs, au pairs, counselors, and so on. Many of these aren’t going to happen this summer anyway, just like in the H-2B category, but it’s a program that is badly in need of review.
Finally, there are – there’s the L-visa program for intra-company transferees, which is often used as a substitute for H-1B. It was meant for multinational companies transferring workers, but has been, you know, abused.
And also, one that we really don’t know about the numerical impact – but I believe that it’s very significant – is the TN-visa program, which are work visas for professionals from Mexico and Canada. That was originally negotiated as part of NAFTA and now the USMCA. We don’t – we know that there are about 21,000 workers who came in from Mexico last year. We have no idea how many came in from Canada because the government doesn’t count the Canadians because they have a different entry process. And we have other articles on our website about this. But I’m skeptical that this program could be suspended over the long term because it is agreed to in the USMCA treaty with Canada and Mexico, but I do think there’s a good case for putting it on hold now because of the economic situation. And that’s a good opportunity to take a look at it and see if we can do a better job of monitoring what’s going on.
So let’s turn now – and if we did that, I should say, if we suspended all of these programs for about 90 days, that would reduce the number of entries of temporary workers by about one-fourth, which is a significant number. That’s 200,000-some jobs. Over the long term, we could look at, you know, closer to half a million or 600,000 fewer temporary workers coming in.
So let’s turn to the work permits. So every year the federal government issues about 1.8 million work permits that we’ve talked about. These are detailed in another table that’s in the report that we can put up on the screen. And here are selected categories that I’ve picked out to show where the biggest numbers are and what categories of people, what types of applicants are being allowed to work here.
The first category is people who have applied for green cards and their application is pending because they are on the waiting list. Their applications have not been approved, and yet we – because they’re here in this country, we allow them to start working here even before they’ve been approved for a green card. That’s more than 400,000 people.
Next are the so-called OPT work permits. OPT stands for Optional Practical Training. This category is for foreign students who – or people who enter the country on a student visa who are given permission to work either while they’re in their degree program or after they graduate or complete their program for which they were given entry. And this is one of the programs that was not created by Congress – it was created under the Bush administration and then expanded under the Obama administration – and which has been – has really morphed into a program that either support diploma mills who are bringing people in, calling them students, and then farming them out to work for employers; or just simply allows a lot of graduates from U.S. universities to take jobs after they graduate for – some for up to three years if you’re in a STEM occupation, up to one year if you’re not. And the employer doesn’t have to pay payroll taxes on that employee, so it’s a real bargain for the employer. It encourages people to stay on after their student visa, and in some cases may encourage people who wouldn’t have otherwise come here to study to do so. And there are some big numbers. Again, it’s more than 200,000 of these work permits are issued every single year.
MR. KRIKORIAN: And, Jessica, if I could just reinforce a point you made, the vast majority of these are not students, but they’re still here on a student visa. In other words, it’s like the old Soviet joke, “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” Well, these are people who pretend to be students and we pretend to believe them, but they’re not studying anything. This is not even like an internship that they’re doing. This is a legal fiction that allows these people to masquerade as students when, in fact, they’re really just foreign workers.
MS. VAUGHAN: There’s no requirement except for the STEM categories that it be in a job that has anything to do with their major. The government is very lax at monitoring what kind of jobs people are working in or whether they are even working in the job that they told the government they would be working in. We don’t know when they leave. It’s really kind of an honor system, which is completely inappropriate for any kind of visa or work permit. There are national-security risks involved in this. And the – this is an opportunity for the Trump administration to put a hold on the program and look at it over the long term as to whether it should be continued.
I actually think Congress ought to take a look at it and potentially limit the president’s authority on what kinds of work permits can be issued, and this is one that is just crying out for more oversight, regulation, and ideally legislation for a lasting solution to it, because it’s direct competition with U.S. kids who are graduating from college and is setting up incentives that are damaging to the integrity of the immigration system, like these diploma mills and other fraud that happens.
So the next category that I think is really important to look at is called the H-4 work permit program, and that’s all these – all these four categories where dependents of visa workers are also allowed to work here. And that’s more than 93,000 work permits last year, both first-time issuances and renewals. Four categories of temporary workers are allowed to have their dependents – spouses and kids – also get work permits here.
This is a really controversial one, again never authorized by Congress, created by the Obama administration. There’s a lawsuit pending in federal court trying to overturn this program or enjoin it, and it’s an obvious place for the Trump administration to cut. We should not be giving spouses of visa workers the opportunity to work in this – in this labor market. It just simply is not necessary ever, much less in the current situation. And the administration needs to suspend the issuance of both new work permits and renewals in this situation.
MR. KRIKORIAN: And, Jessica, if I could underline this, you – in other words, it’s not just now that this is a dubious problem. Why would we essentially allow what amounts to kind of the beginning of permanent settlement – in other words, that spouses are coming to work – when this is supposed to be a temporary program? In other words, if it’s temporary, then you don’t bring your family with you; you do your job and then you go home. Otherwise, we are telegraphing to people – we’re essentially winking at them by saying, yeah, it says temporary, but you know, we all understand that that’s just a fiction. It’s just one more example of our immigration system basically being marbled throughout with lies and deception, and this is simply one more dishonest element of our immigration program.
I’m just editorializing here, but go ahead.
MS. VAUGHAN: No, but that’s right because this lawsuit that’s been brought against this program, in the government’s defense they said, well, we wanted to give these work permits because we want to encourage these workers to stay here permanently.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Right.
MS. VAUGHAN: But you know – now, I could – there are some situations where it’s OK. For example, if you have a bona fide case of an employee of a multinational company comes to the United States to work for three years for their company, and then they’re going to go back to wherever or on to another overseas assignment, and we have reciprocity with that person’s home country so that, you know, we allow spouses to work, much in the same way as sometimes diplomatic spouses are allowed to work in the home country. The numbers aren’t very large, it’s not the same kind of incentive, and it’s not abused in the same way. Those are OK, I think, for some of the L category, which is the intra-company transferees.
But most of these – why would you give work permission to someone who’s come on an exchange-work program? It’s just unnecessary. The same with the H-1B spouses. You know, they’re here for maybe three years, maybe with a three-year extension under the spirit of the program. In the practice of the program, this is another bridge to permanent status that they believe they were entitled to, that they were led to believe by their employer that they would be getting. And it’s perpetuating the corruption of a system or the degradation of the integrity of a system that we need to put a stop to, and this is the – an ideal opportunity to do that.
So some of the other big categories of work permits are victims of crime, which is actually not a huge category but, again, it is – the existence of the work permit does provide an incentive to people. And the only thing that I would just point out there is that, actually, the family members of the crime victims get larger numbers of work permits than the actual victims. So it’s a – it’s a benefit that a lot of people aren’t well aware of.
Lots of asylum applicants have been getting work permits, more than 400,000. And again, here the availability of the work permit, it provides an incentive for people to come here, to apply for asylum, be allowed in, be given a court date years in the future, knowing that you’re going to be able to get a work permit and live here as if you were legal for years at a time. We should certainly be looking at those renewals. Nowadays there aren’t many new asylum applicants because of the shutdown at our borders, but a lot of these permits are getting renewed. And it’s time to look at whether they’ve complied with all the requirements of their proceedings and, again, should we really be offering these work permits to anyone in that situation.
We give out 144,000 work permits – or at least we did last year – to people who were ordered removed but either were able to get relief from an immigration judge or can’t be removed because their home country won’t take them back. We give a lot of those people work permits. Should that really be a priority? I don’t think we should be doing it now, for sure.
And then the big categories at the bottom there are DACA and deferred action and TPS. You know, those – you know, I don’t think there’s a real case for suspending them necessarily right now, but we’ll have to see what happens with the upcoming Supreme Court decision on DACA to see, you know, whether there is any authority to issue those work permits and what’s going to happen with their renewals.
So, together, when you add up all these categories, after – you know, some of them may come back, may be OK to resume after about 90 days, but the majority of them that we talked about, especially on the work permits – the pending green-card applicants, OPT, dependents of visa workers, and asylum applicants – I think those should be on longer-term suspension. And those four categories alone would be more than a million work permits, and therefore if they weren’t issued would be more than a million potential job opportunities for U.S. workers. And together with the temporary visas, you could easily cut it by about 600,000, and we’re looking at getting up to 1.8 million cuts in temporary workers in the U.S. for the next year.
And again, we need – all of these cuts will be of short-term benefit to American workers unless there is longer-term regulatory reform that the administration needs to do in the area of H visas, Js, OPT, and the dependents of visa workers. Those are all spelled out in the report as well. And I hope that if there is to be some immigration legislation, that that would also address some of these work-visa programs because there are much more fundamental reforms that are necessary.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Jessica. We have a few questions.
I just wanted to clarify your last point a little bit, is that the regulatory reform – for people who don’t know the – kind of the inside baseball or the way this sort of thing works – is something the administration can do on its own without Congress, but it requires jumping through a whole series of hoops. You submit a proposed rule, and then people can – you know, mostly lobbyists and advocacy groups can send in what they call public comment. It’s not really the public, but – and then those have to be – those comments have to be examined and incorporated. The point is, there’s a lot of hoops and it takes – it’s a process which is spelled out in the law, but the administration can do it on its own.
The 20 things you mentioned earlier in the report, that you went over, are things that the administration doesn’t need to even go through all of those hoops. It has the authority to do those things just, you know, with a pen and a phone, as somebody once said.
MS. VAUGHAN: That’s right. And also – yes, these can be short-term executive action under the authority of the proclamation for dealing with the pandemic shutdown, although even some of the regulatory proposals – some of them, like there is a reform that’s been written that would address this problem of dependents of visa workers getting a work permit, that one has been sitting on somebody’s desk in the administration for about a year. It’s been written and would be very effective reform if it were allowed to go forward and actually be released and, you know, move the process along so that it can be implemented, put it into that notice-and-comment period. They need to just release it from whoever’s desk that it’s sitting on. It’s not a lot of extra work for anybody at this point.
MR. KRIKORIAN: And what that does suggest is how there are conflicting political currents within the White House itself. There are people who are former lobbyists for business interests, former libertarian activists, and what have you who have a very different approach to immigration than what we were led to believe this administration was going to be about. There are others, of course, on the right side of the issue. But the point is, even within the White House there is a constant tug of war over whether any of these things should happen. And that’s why I mentioned at the beginning when the final result comes out, whether it’s this week or next week or next month – but there’s going to be something at some point soon suspending or modifying at least some of these programs – this report – again, CIS.org, it’s right at the top; it’s called “Hire American” – can be a useful comparison so that you can see what the range of possibilities was and then which of those kinds of things actually made it through, made it past the lobbyists, the business interests inside the White House to actually be – you know, to be included in whatever proclamation the president puts out.
We have a couple questions from listeners. One of them, it kind of gives some context to this, says a lot of people imagined these guest-worker programs to be all from Latin America. And obviously, some are, like the H-2A is mostly Latin Americans though not exclusively, but these are people – these are used by people from all over the world: from Asia, from Europe, from everywhere. I don’t know how much detail we need to go into, but maybe if you had, you know, just a little sketch of how this is – these are really programs that draw people from around the world, not just Mexican fruit-pickers.
MS. VAUGHAN: Most definitely, and a lot of it has to do with the recruiting networks that the staffing companies and labor brokers use to bring in people.
A lot of the ag workers, the H-2As, are from Mexico. Actually, a large number of them are from the Caribbean as well, and until recently some of those were able to enter without interviews, even, if you can imagine that, almost automatically. But that’s a loophole that was recently closed.
The H-2Bs largely – the largest number come from Mexico, as well, but can potentially come from all over the place. I mean, I think a lot of us are familiar with the resort workers who come from some European countries, Eastern Europe in particular. The J-visa program, the exchange workers, a lot of them have come from South America, especially the ones that go to ski resorts, because of the difference – you know, the hemispheric difference in the season. You know, they’re coming during their summer off to work in winter resorts here.
The H-1Bs, 70 percent of them are citizens of India, with also a large number from China, and then a smattering coming from countries in other parts of the world like the Philippines and a lot of different other countries.
And so these really are global programs. But that’s also what makes them a little bit of a risk in terms of public health, because we don’t have a good way to screen people for their exposure or potentially being contagious for the coronavirus. It’s also why some of them, without adequate screening, could present potentially a national security risk. Obviously, most of the people that participate in these programs are not, but you know, again, suspending them gives us the opportunity to examine them and try to strengthen them.
MR. KRIKORIAN: And just if people are interested in the global reach of specifically the Summer Work Travel program, we published a report a few years back, a very extensive look by a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter on our staff, Jerry Kammer, who really kind of got into the weeds on this, and not just in a wonky sense but actually talked to people. It’s a very interesting read. If you just go to CIS.org, search for “cheap labor as cultural exchange,” and he talks about people from Ukraine and from everywhere – Turkey – using this program. So, really, these really are – these programs all do have a global reach.
We had another question here. It’s sort of a historical question. If the president were to take your recommendations, how historic would this be? In other words, have we cut back on immigration and these guest-worker programs in this way in a significant way anytime in the recent past?
MS. VAUGHAN: That’s a good question. I can’t think of an instance except possibly with respect to certain countries where we’ve shut down visa programs like, you know, after the Iran – after the Iranian students and revolutionaries took over the American embassy in the ’70s in Tehran. I think we shut down some of the student visa processing. After Tiananmen Square, actually, we gave, like, an amnesty for Chinese students here, but I don’t know what happened to issuances at that point. I can’t think of another instance – and I may be proven wrong – in which we have accomplished such a comprehensive suspension of entry programs, but I also can’t think of a time when our labor market has collapsed so quickly to where having a suspension like this of temporary work programs would provide immediate relief to Americans and legal immigrants who are suddenly out of work. So, you know, the fact that there may be no precedent for it shouldn’t be an obstacle to trying it, considering how much things have changed. There are a lot of things about our lives that are going to be completely different now, and I think it’s a great opportunity to right-size some of these programs and eliminate those that are no longer really serving any good purpose.
MR. KRIKORIAN: And I think, to reinforce your point, even in the Great Depression it took several years to reach the kind of unemployment levels we’re seeing now. It didn’t happen overnight in 1929. Here, in our instance, this is the first time really in, I mean, any country’s history where huge shares were thrown out of work essentially overnight.
And the other thing I would add in response to this question is that earlier periods, we didn’t have this alphabet soup of so-called nonimmigrant programs, of guest-worker programs. In fact, guest-worker programs used to be illegal under federal law. The Contract Labor Act prohibited guest-worker programs altogether. And over time they’ve kind of creeped in, and we now have this array of visa programs where we’re essentially almost out of letters of the alphabet to label these visa programs.
So to your point about this is an opportunity to reassess, you know, this is – this is sort of an overgrown program, to use a gardening analogy, and it needs some drastic pruning to bring it back to a sort of more orderly situation. And this disaster that we’re facing presents an opportunity to reassess and to prune these out-of-control programs.
MS. VAUGHAN: Yeah.
MR. KRIKORIAN: We had a question about DACA. The Supreme Court is supposed to rule soon. I mean, they’ve been saying it could have been last week or this week; it may be not be till early June. But they’re going to rule on the DACA – the legality of the president’s canceling DACA. I don’t see any way the Supreme Court is not going to rule for the administration, not because of Kremlinology or anything but because DACA is an unlawful program. It was just made up with a memo. And the idea that a subsequent administration can’t just cancel an earlier administration’s memo would really throw the whole concept of self-government and constitutional government into doubt. So I think there’s no question this president is – the Supreme Court is going to uphold the president’s authority to cancel DACA.
But what implications would that have for work permits? Obviously, dependent on what the administration does, but if you could maybe talk a little bit about that We don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m not even necessarily in favor of throwing them all out. But what are the work-permit implications of ending DACA?
MS. VAUGHAN: Well, the work permit was the key element of DACA. That was, you know, really what the program was about. It was always characterized as protection from deportation when, in fact, hardly any of these – the people who received DACA were ever at any risk for deportation at all. What was important to the Obama administration was to provide these individuals with the ability to work here. It’s almost like a, you know, green card lite.
And somewhere over 800,000-some work permits were issued to individuals over the course of DACA. A lot of these individuals have been able to obtain a green card through other programs, like family or employment-based sponsorship. Others have been removed from the country because of criminal histories or, you know, crimes that they committed after they got DACA – thousands of them, in fact, should never have gotten DACA.
So I think DACA is a very important case because of the spotlight that it shines on this whole practice of issuing work permits to people, you know, of a certain category of applicant, and, you know, how this – the work permit has been used as a kind of backdoor green card lite program; that it’s a way to, in effect, give amnesty to whatever population that any president has wanted to define. And in fact, the Obama administration tried to go even further by implementing DAPA for the family members of people with DACA. So that’s why –
MR. KRIKORIAN: No, that was – just to clarify, that was the family members, the parents of people who were here – in other words, people who were U.S. citizens. This was actually even beyond the family members of DACA. DAPA was much larger than DACA and it was struck down by a federal court as illegal.
MS. VAUGHAN: Yeah. So that’s – it will be really important to see what the Court says about the work permits, although, interesting – I mean, I’m not a constitutional scholar, obviously, but the issue of the work-permit authority is not one that the administration is pushing so much but is one that the states think is very important and people who believe in, you know, congressional authority over immigration think is important. I mean, it’s really surprising that Congress has never really objected to these work permits being issued in these large numbers outside of the programs that they themselves created and have the authority under our Constitution to create. So it will be interesting to see what they say about the work permits.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah. I mean, there is the bigger question, just to finish off on this, is that the previous administration claimed and this administration has not argued against the right to let in any foreigner they want, to parole in – that’s the authority, it’s called. Supposed to be a(n) individual, one-by-one authority for extreme cases – you know, somebody’s dying and has to get to the Mayo Clinic and doesn’t have time for a visa – and yet it’s being used – it’s been used by the previous administration very widely. So the previous administration said they could let in anyone they wanted regardless of law passed by Congress, and then give anyone they want – again, regardless of the law – work permits. So it really – it is mystifying that Congress hasn’t reeled in this authority that the executive claims to essentially ignore or moot the immigration laws that Congress has passed.
MS. VAUGHAN: Right, to create their own immigration program.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Right, exactly.
So we’re coming in – we’re getting almost to an hour, so I want to wrap this up. I want to thank you, Jessica. You also, obviously, had a lot of help on this. We had other staff members, as well as even some interns, assist on this project. This was a group effort. And again, it’s online, CIS.org. It’s called “Hire American.” For anybody who’s still employed, we also have a donate button there if you want to support our work.
And I encourage people to look it over. You can just look at the bullets at the front. You don’t have to look at every number if you don’t want to. But then compare it to what the administration actually manages to do, the measures that do make it past the corporate lobbyists in the White House, and see whether it really measures up to the – to what we’ve expected from this administration as far as protecting American workers. Buy American, hire American was the motto. And the proof will be in the pudding, as it were, in this upcoming proclamation on guest-worker programs. And the report that Jessica has just talked about will be a way to – a yardstick, basically, to measure the effectiveness – likely effectiveness – of the upcoming presidential proclamation.
So thank you, Jessica. Thanks to all of you who are listening. We’ll presumably be doing another virtual event like this at some point soon, and you’ll hear about it either by going to our website, CIS.org – you can sign up for our mailing list – or follow us on Twitter at @CIS_org. Jessica and I both also have our own accounts there. You can just search for our names and they’ll pop right up. Thank you very much and we’ll hope to see you next time.
MS. VAUGHAN: Thank you.