February 17, 2017
Intersections (A Publication from the Office of the State Treasurer, California)
In recent weeks, President Donald Trump’s immigration executive actions have dominated the news cycle. Nothing has created more furor than Trump’s order to impose temporary restrictions on refugee resettlement.
While the outcries have been focused on how restricting refugee entry violates the United States’ presumed moral commitment to help the world, little has been said about the link between more immigrants, specifically refugees, and Americans’ employment opportunities.
Refugees, like most legal immigrants, receive employment authorization documents that allow them to compete with Americans in an increasingly tight labor market. Employers view immigration, which creates a larger labor pool, as a bonanza.
In its outraged response to Trump, Starbucks announced that it would hire 10,000 refugees globally. But here in California, those barista jobs are perfect for the part-time student saving for tuition or the homemaker looking to supplement the family income. Trump is right: Americans should come first.
Over the last two decades, legal immigration has averaged over one million annually with California a primary destination. Written another way, every year one million legally authorized workers enter the labor market. Employers are especially enamored of guest worker programs, the so called temporary or nonimmigrant visa categories that have dramatically expanded over the years.
At the same time, Congress has done little to end illegal immigration. These immigration actions and non-actions have hurt California’s workers and depressed wages for millions. The more available workers, the better it is for employers, but the worse it is for the unemployed, the marginally employed, or the employees that deserves a wage increase.
The visa system has flooded the market with workers. A sampling: the H-1B, and its cousins, the H-1B1, the H-1B2, and the H-1B3 for “specialty workers”; the H-2A and H-2B for seasonal agricultural workers and temporary non-agriculture workers, the L-1A and L-1B for international transfers; and the O for “extraordinary talents.” Silicon Valley continuously lobbies for more H-1Bs even though large-scale layoffs within the industry have increased dramatically since 2015.
Employers claim that they need the huge influx of international workers because so few Americans are available or qualified. But the statement is preposterous on its face. For example, the State Department, disguising it as the summer exchange/work travel program (SWT), issues more than 100,000 J-1 visas to international college students who wind up working at the nation’s beaches, national parks, upscale restaurants, and golf resorts.
Assuming a fair wage and an equal playing field, American kids will work at Yosemite or Disney World. But because employers are exempt from paying SWT participants’ Social Security, Medicare, or federal unemployment taxes, they prefer to hire international students.
To help American workers, Trump should cap legal immigration limits at 250,000 their pre-1965 average, and end the numerous visa categories that allow foreign nationals to compete with citizens for increasingly fewer decent jobs.
Joe Guzzardi is California for Population Stabilization’s National Media Director. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions in this article are presented in the spirit of spurring discussion and reflect those of the author and not necessarily the treasurer, his office or the State of California.