2013 Immigration Reform: This is the Only Question We Need to Ask About Foreign Labor in America


Almost every day there is talk about immigration reform. We know that businesses provide the carrot — the jobs — that attracts people from all over the world to come to the United States. We can also, as Americans, understand that there aren't many places one would want to return to after having lived here. But when was the last time we, as a nation, really considered who we are hiring through our foreign labor certification process and at what cost?

The Office of Foreign Labor Certification, under the U.S. Department of Labor, governs the flow of foreign born workers across our borders through the H1B, H2B, H2A and Permanent Labor Certification programs. Taxpayers spend about $79 million to help certify foreign labor visa's.

The H2B program allows employers to hire temporary, non-agricultural employees for peak, seasonal and one time needs if there are not enough similarly skilled Americans available. Employers apply for a specific amount of visa's and potential employees don’t have to be named. Resorts and theme parks, for example, would likely use the H2B visa process. A maximum of 66,000 H2B visas can be approved per year.

The H1B Visa Certification Program, is a program for the well educated and highly skilled while the Migrant Seasonal Farm Worker Program, is the federal attempt to govern the flow of, and ensure the protection of, people who are brought here to help get our food from the farm to the table. The H1B visa program is the federal process by which employers can bring uniquely qualified foreign born professionals for ‘specialty’ jobs when no American has been deemed qualified for the position. Employers must sponsor the applicant and generally those employers hire an immigration attorney to handle the process for them. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a specialty job as architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, biotechnology, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialties, theology, and the arts.

H1B applicants must have a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent except fashion models who, if undereducated, can show “distinguished merit or ability.” Approved applicants can stay for as long as six years before they must become legal residents or return home for at least one year. A maximum of 65,000 such visas can be approved annually, which is significantly lower than the 2000 to 2004 levels of nearly 200,000. Approved applicants are welcome to bring their immediate family members.

The H2A visa certification governs foreign born workers who are needed for temporary or seasonal agricultural and domestic jobs. Employers apply for a specific number of visas and again specific employees need not be named. Once more, employers must prove that there are “not sufficient workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available, and that the employment of aliens will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.” Employers must pay standard wages and must provide free lodging for employees which must include cooking facilities or the employers must provide three free meals per day. In 1964, due to the abuses of some employers, the Migrant Seasonal Farm Worker program was created. MSFW monitors the living and working conditions of agricultural workers and provides job skills training to those wishing to find a new job as well as educational opportunities to dependent children of farm workers. Taxpayers invest around $82 million in the Migrant Seasonal Farm Worker Program.

So with all this information now under our belts, here is the one question we need to ask ourselves about foreign labor in America:

If a business wants to hire someone and they can’t find any American resident with the necessary skills required to be an architect, engineer, mathematician, scientist, social scientist, biotechnologist, doctor, nurse, educator, lawyer, accountant, clergy, service representative, horticulturist, farmer, theme park attendant, or fashion model; and they write off the cost associated with hiring a foreign born citizen who is “able, willing, qualified and available”; and corporate America is sitting on record profits; and we are still plagued by excessive unemployment. Why are we spending $160 million dollars subsiding said business instead of investing it in our own children so they can be architects, engineers, mathematicians, scientists, social scientists, biotechnologists, doctors, nurses, educators, lawyers, accountants, clergy, service representatives, horticulturists, farmers, theme park attendants, or fashion models of "distinguished merit or ability"?