* I was surprised to see that, when it comes to immigration, the two front-runners in the 2016 presidential election (Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders) have very similar opinions in their immigration policies about H-1B guestworker visas — work permits for foreign workers that are used by corporations to underpay their employees and depress domestic wages, while keeping American workers unemployed. A man running as a conservative Republican and another man running as a progressive Democrat seem to agree: Allowing MORE undocumented immigrants into the U.S. does not bode well for a labor force with high unemployment and stagnant wages.
Iowa Secretary of State: Straw Poll after 4 Days at the Iowa State Fair:
GOP: Donald Trump 29% - Ben Carson 20%
DEM: Bernie Sanders 50% - Hillary Clinton 45%
Decades of disastrous trade deals and immigration policies have destroyed our middle class. Today, nearly 40% of black teenagers are unemployed. Nearly 30% of Hispanic teenagers are unemployed. For black Americans without high school diplomas, the bottom has fallen out: more than 70% were employed in 1960, compared to less than 40% in 2000.
The influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans – including immigrants themselves and their children – to earn a middle class wage.
Nearly half of all immigrants and their US-born children currently live in or near poverty, including more than 60 percent of Hispanic immigrants. Every year, we voluntarily admit another 2 million new immigrants, guest workers, refugees, and dependents, growing our existing all-time historic record population of 42 million immigrants.
We need to control the admission of new low-earning workers in order to: help wages grow, get teenagers back to work, aid minorities’ rise into the middle class, help schools and communities falling behind, and to ensure our immigrant members of the national family become part of the American dream.
Increase prevailing wage for H-1Bs. We graduate two times more Americans with STEM degrees each year than find STEM jobs, yet as much as two-thirds of entry-level hiring for IT jobs is accomplished through the H-1B program. More than half of H-1B visas are issued for the program's lowest allowable wage level, and more than eighty percent for its bottom two.
Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas. This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program. Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Senator, Marco Rubio, has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities.
Requirement to hire American workers first. Too many visas, like the H-1B, have no such requirement. In the year 2015, with 92 million Americans outside the workforce and incomes collapsing, we need to companies to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed. Petitions for workers should be mailed to the unemployment office, not USCIS.
The J-1 visa jobs program for foreign youth will be terminated and replaced with a resume bank for inner city youth provided to all corporate subscribers to the J-1 visa program.
Before any new green cards are issued to foreign workers abroad, there will be a pause where employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers. This will help reverse women's plummeting workplace participation rate, grow wages, and allow record immigration levels to subside to more moderate historical averages.
So what did Senator Sanders actually say about immigration? In an interview with Sanders, Vox.com editor Ezra Klein brought up the concept of an “open borders” immigration policy. Sanders rejected the notion—open borders and unlimited immigration, of course, being a position that no elected official supports. Sanders went on to point out—a point which he later reiterated to journalist Jose Antonio Vargas and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce—that in some cases the importation of new foreign workers can negatively impact the wages of workers in the United States. Note that Sanders didn’t say immigrants are taking jobs or lowering wages. He was specifically referring to non-immigrant, temporary foreign worker programs, also known as “guestworker” programs, which are full of flaws that employers take advantage of to exploit American and migrant workers alike, and to pit them against each other in the labor market.
Sanders is strongly in favor of legalization and citizenship for the current unauthorized immigrant population, which will raise wages and lift labor standards for all workers, but he’s against expanding U.S. temporary foreign worker programs, which allow employers to exploit and underpay so-called guestworkers. Limiting guestworker programs will reduce wage suppression and improve labor standards for U.S. and migrant workers alike.
When it comes to the number one priority for immigration reform—legalizing the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States—Sanders has said time and time again that they should be legalized immediately and put on a path to citizenship, and he’s highlighted their contributions to the American economy. Sanders could not be any clearer about this. He voted for the 2013 comprehensive reform bill that would have legalized most of the unauthorized population, despite his misgivings about the large expansion of high- and low-skilled guestworker programs in the bill, which shows the importance he ascribes to legalization. Sanders understands that having eight million people working in the U.S. labor market without labor and employment rights puts downward pressure on the wages and working conditions of all workers. He has not failed to point this out. There’s no question that Sanders’ desire for legalization of the unauthorized population is consistent with his broader agenda to see wages rise for workers in the United States.
Sanders rejecting corporate lobbyists who want to vastly expand and deregulate guestworker programs in order to hire foreign workers who are easily exploited, who can be legally underpaid, and who can rarely speak up about unfair working conditions or unpaid wages. Guestworkers are afraid to advocate for themselves because they often arrive indebted to the labor recruiters who helped them secure their temporary job, and because they know that if they complain on the job—or if they get fired for any reason—they become instantly deportable, which means losing the ability to earn enough to pay back their debts.
Everyone operating in this space should be honest about what immigration is and is not. Immigration is not a magical unemployment cure as some corporate lobbying groups like FWD.us suggest. Future labor migration flows have great potential to invigorate and add value to the American economy, but only if managed smartly. At a minimum, new workers arriving in the United States must: 1) have adequate worker protections that empower them to stand up for themselves when things go wrong, 2) not be underpaid according to U.S. wage standards, and 3) either arrive in the United States with a permanent immigrant visa (a “green card”) or have the ability to self-petition for a green card after a short provisional period on a temporary visa.
Ignoring the realities that guestworkers face is tantamount to selling out to the corporations that spend millions lobbying for the ability to exploit migrant workers through bigger and bigger guestworker programs with fewer and fewer rules that protect workers and labor standards. Obviously, the Chamber of Commerce, FWD.us, agribusiness, and much of corporate America would like all reform advocates to ignore guestworker exploitation so that they can achieve their top immigration reform objective: a steady supply of disposable indentured labor. Reform advocates on the left, right, and center should work together to thwart them by insisting on robust protections and enforceable rights for all future immigrants and guestworkers.