“AMERICA First!” was the campaign slogan of US President Trump.
The Republican Party which reluctantly endorsed him after a grueling, contentious, name-calling nomination campaign has embraced the slogan, if not the candidate, and now President, himself: Americans must get the jobs that foreigners are taking away from them.
That campaign rhetoric ultimately clashed with reality early this month, when the Department of Homeland Security announced a one-time increase of 15,000 temporary work visas to help “US businesses in danger of suffering irreparable harm due to a lack of available temporary non-agricultural workers.
This in addition to the current annual cap of 66,000 H-2B visas already in place and issued twice during the year. A maximum of 33,000 H-2B visas are made available during the first half of a fiscal year (October 1 – March 31). The second batch of 33,000 becomes available for the second half of the year (April 1 to September 30). If the 33,000 is not filled up during the first half, the unused visas are made available for the next half’s allocation.
However, if the 66,000 is not filled up in any fiscal year, the unused numbers are not added to the next year’s quota since the 66,000 is a legislated cap.
Basis for increase
DHS Secretary John Kelly – now the White House Chief of Staff – cites a provision during the May 2017 omnibus budget hearing when Congress allowed the increase to avert a government shutdown as a basis for this increase. Part of that deal included giving the DHS secretary the authority to increase the number of seasonal foreign workers, after consulting with the secretary of labor.
The increase must be based on a “determination that the needs of American businesses cannot find “US workers who are willing, qualified, and able to perform temporary nonagricultural labor.” That consultation had been done and resulted in a joint call to grant this “one-time increase of 15,000 H-2B visas” effectively raising the second half cap to more than 45,000.
It is ironic that the call for an increase in hiring temporary foreign workers came during the week that President Trump was promoting “Made in America” products and services.
To be eligible for H-2B visa sponsorship, a US business “must first attest that their firm would suffer permanent “irreparable harm” without importing foreign workers. A company hiring cooks, for example, must “retain documents proving that they would not otherwise be able to meet their contractual obligations, or provide other evidence of severe financial loss.”
This requirement is in addition to the customary procedures of providing evidence that the need is temporary either on a one-time, seasonal, a peak load or intermittent occurrence.
Admiral’s Cove, an “award-winning country club in Jupiter” and competitor to President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resort in Florida, actively recruits foreign workers for temporary jobs that Americans – especially residents of the Panhandle State – are not keen on applying for.
In 2015, during the presidential primary debate, Trump admitted that he has used H-2B visas to hire temporary workers at his golf resorts in Palm Beach and Jupiter, Florida.
In justifying his use of foreign workers instead of American citizens or those in the country on lawful permanent resident status (such as green card holders) Trump said that “I’ve hired in Florida during the prime season — you could not get help,”
“Everybody agrees with me on that. They were part-time jobs. You needed them, or we just might as well close the doors, because you couldn’t get help in those hot, hot sections of Florida,” he said, as quoted in the Washington Post.
Prevailing wage levels
If Mar-a-Lago were to hire line cooks, for example, from the Philippines, the President’s favorite resort must first determine the prevailing wage for a line cook in Palm Beach County, Florida.
At the time of writing, the following information from the US Department of Labor shows the prevailing wage for cooks in restaurants.
OES/SOC Code: 35-2014
OES/SOC Title: cooks, restaurant
Level 1 Wage: $10.02 hour – $20,842 year
Level 2 Wage: $11.66 hour – $24,253 year
Level 3 Wage: $13.31 hour – $27,685 year
Level 4 Wage: $14.95 hour – $31,096 year
Mean Wage (H-2B): $13.31 hour – $27,685 year
The specific wage level would then have to be included in the request for temporary labor certification.
After obtaining the prevailing wage information, the US employer (such as Mar-a-Lago or Admiral’s Cove) files the Form I-129 for the number of workers being recruited.
Applicants from the Philippines may be hired directly or through a POEA-licensed recruitment agency. Whether directly hired or through an agency, the employer must provide the documents of recruitment, including evidence of the employer’s nature and place of business, ability to pay the prevailing wage to the specific labor attaché with jurisdiction over the employer’s place of business.
The POLO (Philippine Overseas Labor Officer) will then accredit the documents. The accreditation is presented to the POEA by each applicant or through the POEA recruitment agency. Each worker also has to undergo the POEA pre-deployment orientation.
After approval of the H-2B petition by the USCIS, the approval notice is given to the applicants for submission to the US Embassy for the issuance of the H-2B visa.
Applicants present the visa and other documents—particularly the POEA PDOS certification—to the immigration officer at the NAIA when departing the country.
Kelly emphasized that the 15,000 increase was intended to help “American businesses that are at risk of suffering irreparable harm if they don’t get additional H-2B workers,”
The main and sole reason then is to “help American businesses continuing to prosper.”
Clearly in this context, when then candidate and now President Trump proclaimed “America First” he meant American businesses, not American workers, which incidentally benefits foreign workers.