H-2B visas for unskilled workers could go up from 66,000 to 250,000 annually

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Critics clamor to remove language from funding bill.

AB Wire


There is much to cheer for unskilled foreign nationals who wish to emigrate to the US for work: the $1.1 trillion omnibus funding bill includes language that would dramatically increase the number of H-2B visas, from the current 66,000 to 250,000 visas.

Congressional leaders slipped the provision into the 2,009-page funding bill, with rank-and-file lawmakers only discovering it Wednesday morning, reported The Hill. The move immediately sparked protests from across the political spectrum.

According to Slate, “the two towering paper stacks that comprise the funding bill are the 2016 omnibus appropriations package, which funds the government through next September, and a “tax-extenders” bill that, well, extends (and in many cases makes permanent) a bunch of tax breaks that were set to expire. Though they will be voted on separately, they were negotiated together. The omnibus is more favorable to Democrats, and the tax extenders are more favorable to Republicans.”

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But the immigration provision could more than triple the number of H-2B visas for foreign workers seeking jobs at hotels, theme parks, ski resorts, golf courses, landscaping businesses, restaurants and bars. The move is intended to boost the supply of non-agricultural seasonal workers, reported the Hill.

“These foreign workers are brought in exclusively to fill blue collar non-farm jobs in hotels, restaurants, construction, truck driving, and many other occupations sought by millions of Americans,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), an outspoken critic of President Obama’s immigration policies, in a statement.

“The GOP-led Congress is about to deliver Obama a four-fold increase to one of the most controversial foreign worker programs. The result? Higher unemployment and lower wages for Americans,” he said.

Chris Chmielenski, a spokesman for NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for less immigration, criticized Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for allowing the provision into the omnibus after pledging to look out for American workers in his first speech to the House after taking the gavel.

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“H-2B visas are for low-skilled foreign workers who typically compete with people who have a high school diploma or less and these are the people who are struggling the most,” he said. “These are the people that Ryan seemed to be referencing in his speech, and yet he sneaks in a provision in the omnibus that’s going to quadruple the number of low-skilled foreign worker visas,” he added.

A House GOP aide said the visa provision was written by the Judiciary Committee, and that the Speaker was not involved, according to the Hill report.

The aide added that Ryan did not pledge that he wouldn’t touch any programs related to immigration, only to keep major legislation, such as the 2013 Senate bill that included a pathway to citizenship, from moving.

The AFL-CIO and the International Labor Recruitment Working Group warned the bill would lead to exploitation of foreign workers and Americans losing jobs.

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“The language basically rolls back protections for low-wage workers and guest workers and American workers in this industry while lowering the protections for workers,” said Joleen Rivera, a legislative representative at the AFL-CIO.

She said that only 66,000 foreign seasonal workers are allowed into the United States per year but predicted the number could swell to 200,000 because of the language in the omnibus.

Rivera said it would also water down workers’ protections in dangerous industries such as forestry and seafood harvesting.

According to Slate, conservatives also lost on their most well-publicized demands that have dominated cable news: language restricting Syrian and Iraqi refugee resettlement, defunding Planned Parenthood, or blocking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration will not be included.