by Joe Guzzardi
June 24, 2011
For years, the harmful impact of non-immigrant visas on American employment has been ignored. Annually, the federal government issues about one million visas to foreign-born nationals that allow their holders to legally work in the United States.
Among the most onerous visas for American job seekers, especially seasonal workers like students on summer break or household members trying to supplement their family income, is the J-1. Ostensibly created to promote foreign exchange and encourage good will, the J-1 visa appears harmless.
But its holders, mostly age 18-28, can work in so many employment categories that prospective American youths are squeezed out. By offering employers payroll tax breaks, exemptions from paying medical insurance or contributing to social security, the government indirectly encourages employers to hire J-1 workers. Furthermore, in order to remain compliant with the terms of his visa, the employee is required to remain with his original employer for a fixed time period. An added bonus for employers: there is no cap on the numbers of J-1 visas the State Department can issue during a given year.
Because of its liberal guidelines, the J-1 plays an important role in American job displacement. The summer U.S. unemployment rate for teenagers and young adults has risen from 11 percent in July 2005 to 19.1 percent in July 2010. Foreign-born youth now work at summer jobs once coveted by American kids.
A few years ago, on an investigative journalism assignment, I found that the Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket hospitality industries made no effort to find American employees. Hotels, motels and restaurants did not place a single advertisement in any New England area newspaper. No job postings appeared at any of dozens of nearby colleges and universities, in Boston’s major publications or at leading placement agencies’ websites. Employers I spoke to insisted that Americans would not do short term hospitality work.
The following year, however, when it appeared that the government might limit work visas, Cape Cod hosted a jobs fair. More than 300 Americans per hour showed up. By the end of the day, thousands of applications had been submitted.
Al Roy, Career Opportunities’ director of Business Services, said that the “weak economy” drew interest from “more serious job seekers” because the hospitality industry is “always hiring”. Today however, although the dismal economy hasn’t improved, the visas keep coming.
The J-1 is rife with fraud largely because the Internet offers numerous placement services, many disreputable. The inevitable problem of visa overstaying also poses a constant threat. Why should a young person exposed to America’s advantages willingly return home when residing illegally represents so little possibility of deportation? And once established in the U.S., his continued presence allows him to compete illegally with Americans for scarce jobs.
The federal government is an American jobs destroying machine; its priorities are backward. If for example, the government wants to offer tax breaks to employers, those benefits should go to companies that hire U.S. citizens, possibly from inner cities, and not those who hire visa holders.
Until every capable and willing American has a job, non-immigrant work visas should be suspended.