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March 27th, 2009

U.S. Limits Foreign Workers Due to American Unemployment



As the jobless rate increases across the country, the government is restricting American employers from recruiting foreign workers. In perhaps the most controversial restriction, companies who have or will receive bailout money will find it much more difficult to hire a highly-skilled foreign worker with a H-1B visa. A proposal is circulating through Washington to suspend H-2A visas for agricultural workers. Lastly, the State Department has asked sponsors of the J-1 visa — reserved for seasonal employees — to limit their dependence on immigrants.

While the government is taking extreme steps to improve the nation’s jobless rate, some critics like Jeanne M. Malitz, an immigration lawyer in San Diego, say that the government can’t simply bail on its regulations purely because “you have one bad year.”

Many farmers and employers of foreign workers agree, but for different reasons. The sponsors who recruit foreign workers say that they need to do so because many immigrants are willing to do the jobs that most Americans are unwilling to do — mostly because the jobs are strenuous and tedious. Fearing it could impact their harvests, farmers say they are leery to hire American employees because in the past they quit before the job is through.

Other employers say the pay scale has a lot to do with it. Global competition has forced down hourly pay:

“With our competition in Southeast Asia, we can’t pay more [entry-level salary of $6.71 plus some incentives],” [Jack Brooks,  co-owner of J.M. Clayton Co. in Cambridge, Md.] said. The irony isn’t lost on both sides of the debate: Foreigners are needed so Americans can compete with…foreigners.

Should the U.S. be striving to lower its dependence on foreign workers? Yet, will Americans ever be willing to do these jobs, even when the jobless rate is at 8.1%?

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Tim Manni

Tim Manni is the Managing Editor of HSH.com and the author of their daily blog, which concentrates on the latest developments in the mortgage and housing markets.

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