As Expected, President’s Anti-Immigrant Proclamation Bleeds Businesses

In late June, President Trump issued a proclamation suspending the entry of certain nonimmigrants in H1B, H2B, J-1, and L-1 status. The stated goal of the proclamation was to “… protect unemployed Americans from the threat of competition for scarce jobs,” as the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the U.S. labor market.

The national response to the proclamation was thorough and immediate, as U.S. businesses and universities condemned the drastic measure. Now, as these critics of the proclamation predicted, businesses are experiencing the first ill effects of the new immigration restrictions.

The H2B visa category enables businesses to employ foreign nationals on a temporary basis. Certain industries, including landscaping, recreation, and hospitality, are especially dependent on the labor of H2B visa workers. Likewise, H2B workers from Mexico and South America are the backbone of national reforestation efforts that seldom appeal to U.S.-born applicants. Reforestation is physically demanding and labor-intensive, requiring workers to haul seedlings and dig holes for hours on end. However, reforestation reduces erosion, attracts wildlife, and improves the overall health of ecosystems. Collectively, these benefits are critical in efforts to counteract global climate change. But even when one ignores the social responsibility of reforestation, the practice cannot be abandoned. Landowners who are subject to replanting requirements have a legal obligation that will prove difficult to meet without the help of H2B workers.

Beach town businesses also are suffering the symptoms of labor shortages induced by the proclamation. As many beach towns are remote, attracting thousands of tourists for every locale, beach town businesses rely on H2B and J-1 workers. Stripped of the ability to employ foreign nationals in these categories, some beach town businesses have resorted to hiring family members and extending hours for existing employees. Others have raised their offered salaries, to no avail.

The proclamation is best described as a cruel redundancy – an unnecessary decision to further restrict visa categories that already had stringent eligibility requirements. Prior to the proclamation’s issuance, H2B employers had the burden of establishing there were not enough U.S. workers available to perform the temporary work. Thus, the visa’s very nature prevents U.S. workers from having to compete with foreign nationals. Overall, the proclamation’s effects come as no surprise to anyone capable of seeing the flaws in an exhausting, unsubstantiated rhetoric: “us versus them.” [See As Beach Towns Open, Businesses are Short Foreign Workers by Associated Press, New York Times, 12.Jul.2020, and A Casualty of Trump’s Immigration Policy: Millions of Trees by Liz Crampton, Politico, 12.Jul.2020.]


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