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Sunday, July 18, 2004

Commentary
Summer Gets Out of Jeopardy Without Raising H2B Quotas - Insight on the News - Commentary

Commentary
Summer Gets Out of Jeopardy Without Raising H2B Quotas - Insight on the News - Commentary

Commentary
Summer Gets Out of Jeopardy Without Raising H2B Quotas
Posted July 13, 2004
By James R. Edwards Jr.

With summer half spent, vacation spots seem to be doing just fine. In April, part of the business lobby claimed summer itself was in jeopardy because a few resorts might not be able to get all the foreign workers they claimed to need.

Some in Congress bent over backward to pander to these special interests. They introduced legislation to bring in at least 40,000 more unskilled -- that's right, unskilled -- aliens.

The story line purported that some employers couldn't find Americans willing to work at resorts. They employed the favorite "talking point" of the open-borders lobby that there are many "jobs Americans won't do." This incredulous claim might seem less bogus when talking about stoop labor (though even there, it's not true). But a summer job at a resort?

Next thing you know, special interests will push that line in connection with well-paying jobs such as construction, health care and computer programming. Wait a minute, they already say those too are "jobs Americans won't do!"

The special-interest answer is always to bring in ever more foreigners to take American jobs. In the case of summer resorts, they're pushing to increase the number of H2B visas. These are visas for unskilled, supposedly seasonal work.

H2Bs are supposed to be temporary but can end up providing semipermanent residency. These visas are renewable for up to three years. The foreign workers then must go home for six months before returning for up to three more years.

Employers of H2Bs are supposed to look for American workers first. But the requirements for advertising job openings are minimal. They can run an ad in a local weekly newspaper and, when only a dozen resumes from Americans come in for 20 jobs, the employers can purport that they can't find enough Americans to fill the positions.

The Department of Labor "certification" process is less certification and more rubber stamp. The department may not even verify the truthfulness of information on visa applications.

Pandering politicians apparently don't think unemployed Americans or native-born college students would take jobs at Cape Cod, a beach or a mountain resort. In fact, most petitioners seek H2Bs for landscaping, hotels and restaurants. Most of the H2B petitions are for positions that aren't especially seasonal or short-term.

In addition, more temporary visas pose a security problem. At least 40 percent of the illegal-alien population overstayed a temporary visa. Raising the number of temporary visas risks even more illegal immigration.

The Department of Homeland Security announced in March that the annual cap of 66,000 H2Bs had been reached. No more visas could be issued until Oct. 1. Summer resorts cried that they wouldn't be able to fill all their menial positions unless they could import foreign workers because winter resorts had hogged H2Bs.

Hitting the H2B cap midyear only indicates a growing reliance on foreign workers. It doesn't necessarily mean employers couldn't find Americans to do the jobs.

Are more H2Bs really needed? Employment figures belie the fact that a lot more than 15 million potential American workers are available. An unreported pool of millions has stopped looking for work -- they go unreported as part of the labor force.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said in February that the United States has an oversupply of low-skilled workers. Americans without a high-school diploma far outnumber the better educated among the unemployed.

Black Americans face stiff direct competition from foreign workers. Forty percent of black men nationally, 50 percent in New York City, do not have work.

In truth, employers have a lot of options besides importing foreign workers. They could advertise widely at colleges, in and outside their state. They could list jobs with state employment offices. They could pay more (which, Adam Smith wrote, does not translate into appreciably higher prices), which would represent market forces at work.

Then there's always closing off a couple of tables at the back of the restaurant, giving workers overtime, coming up with creative customer self-service alternatives or automating parts of a process.

Next time you hear some special interest claiming they need more foreign workers, be skeptical. The labor market can regulate itself, if politicians would stop flooding it with foreign workers. Market forces worked just fine without raising H2B quotas, and summer saved itself.

James R. Edwards Jr., coauthor of The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform, is an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute.

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