President Donald Trump came to office on a pledge to get tough on immigration. He sometimes used racially charged rhetoric when discussing the issue, promised to build a wall on the Mexican border and also to deport most illegal immigrants.
Trump also promised to get tough on legal immigration. His platform of “buy American and hire American” promised to review current legal immigration programs and crackdown on alleged instances of replacing American workers with lower-cost foreign ones. To that end, President Trump ordered a review of the H1-B visa program last month.
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So far, Trump’s hardline rhetoric on immigration is having an effect. According to the Department of Homeland Security, illegal border crossings are down 76 percent since Trump became president. In addition, arrests of illegal immigrants are up 38 percent since Trump took office. Trump supporters have shared these headlines approvingly.
But what has gotten less attention is that Trump has been expanding some guest worker programs. The spending bill that was recently signed into law by the president allows the Department of Homeland Security to double the amount of H2-B visas issued for 2017.
The H2-B visas allow foreigners to work in the United States in seasonal, non-agricultural jobs for a year. It’s a visa system President Trump knows: His Mar-A-Lago resort is one of the companies that hires foreign workers through the program.
On Thursday, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly announced that he was going to increase the H2-B visa cap from 66,000 to 135,000. “We’ll likely increase the numbers for this year, perhaps not by the entire number I’m authorized,” Kelly told the Senate Appropriations Committee according to the Washington Times.
Immigration restrictionists were not happy with Secretary Kelly’s remarks. They also showed little sympathy for businesses that rely on H2-B visas. “If your business model is based on recruiting foreign workers above the level authorized in regular law, you probably should rethink your business model,” said Rosemary Jenks, government relations manager at NumbersUSA according to the Washington Times.
There are two reasons why companies choose to hire workers on H2-B visas. The first reason is that the American workers are simply not available. These are literally the jobs Americans won’t do. The second reason is in order to hire American workers to do the jobs, they would have to pay extravagant wages for those workers. Anyone up for paying double or triple the amount for everything from vacation to seafood?
If your focus is stopping illegal immigration, you must support making it easier for workers to enter the United States. If people who are desperate to come to the United States cannot enter the country legally, they will find a way to enter illegally. These are people we want to enter the country in order to work, pay taxes, and otherwise contribute to the economy.
Finally, the unemployment rate is at 4.4 percent. The country has a shortage of workers for those industries because we are close to full employment. Those workers have to come from somewhere or entire industries will suffer.
Trump has shown a remarkable pragmatism on his “buy American and hire American” agenda, and increasing the H2-B is another example of this administration bending to reality even if it belies the president’s rhetoric.