Immigration Policy and Guest Workers: Awaiting the Next Presidential Proclamation

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Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Last month’s Presidential Proclamation temporarily suspending a tiny sliver of permanent immigration in response to Great Depression 2.0 also called for a review of the alphabet soup of foreign-worker programs. The relevant cabinet departments were instructed to offer recommendations “to stimulate the United States economy and ensure the prioritization, hiring, and employment of United States workers.”

Those recommendations were to be delivered to the White House this week and a follow-up proclamation is expected soon.

My staff put together a list of 20 steps the president should take immediately to limit work visas and work permits, plus several regulatory changes that require going through the notice-and-comment process.

Nothing unusual about that — it’s what think tanks do.

Lobbying groups, likewise, have been making the case for maintaining or even expanding the foreign worker programs that they’ve foolishly incorporated into their business models.

But it was both surprising and encouraging to see one group that’s severely affected by the importation of foreign labor finally become self-aware and stand up for itself. More than two dozen College Republican and Young Republican chapters came together to send an open letter to the president asking him to end the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program and suspend the H-1B program.

As the letter notes, “Suspending all guestworker programs is ideal, but the OPT & H-1B schemes are especially egregious.” The OPT program has no basis in law, and in 2008 (at the instigation of Microsoft’s D.C. lobbyist) was converted from a one-year internship opportunity into a three-year worker program for tech firms. In OPT, foreign students who have graduated are permitted to masquerade as students while working and waiting to receive an H-1B visa. Absurdly, because they’re pretending to be students, neither the OPT employees nor their employers have to pay payroll taxes, resulting in a subsidy for hiring foreign graduates instead of Americans.

The H-1B program at least has the virtue of having actually been created by Congress, but other than that, it represents a similar threat to the life prospects of young Americans. It’s a cheap-labor program, mainly for the tech industry, importing people mainly from India to do routine IT work. It’s most notorious for its (entirely lawful) use as a means of replacing American tech workers with cheaper foreigners. (The most widely reported instance of this was Disney, which fired its American IT staff and then forced them to train their not-especially-competent replacements, but it’s been used that way by hundreds of companies.)

Despite this, I don’t have high expectations for the Presidential Proclamation on guestworkers. Media fairy tales notwithstanding, Steven Miller doesn’t single-handedly determine administration immigration policy. In fact, with regard to foreign-worker programs, White House policy seems mainly to be formulated by former lobbyists and libertarians. Former Jeb Bush operative Derek Lyons, another influential figure on immigration in the White House, is reported to have warned the president, when he tweeted that he wanted to temporarily suspend immigration due to the Wuhan coronavirus, “Tim Cook isn’t going to like this.”

In fact, I fear that the proclamation will be merely cosmetic, protecting the rice bowls of employers who’ve built businesses on the expectation of unfettered access to cheap indentured labor, while including some meaningless incentives to encourage the hiring of some of the tens of millions of Americans thrown out of work (and millions of new graduates entering the job market). I hope to be proven wrong.

Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.






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