As Jobs Go Unfilled, U.S. Employers Vie to Hire Foreign Laborers
Ronda Fox finally got the news last week, three months into planting season: The federal government approved her application to employ more than a dozen temporary foreign workers for her family-owned landscaping business in Aurora, Colo.
She had hoped to have her crew in place by April 1, nevertheless had initially lost out in This kind of year’s visa lottery. “Better late than never,” Ms. Fox said.
In Centennial, a quick car ride away, Phil Steinhauer faced the same hiring challenge for his landscaping business. nevertheless his application for 150 temporary foreign workers was selected through the federal lottery inside first round, along with his hires were in place when the season started out.
Mr. Steinhauer, though, is actually far coming from satisfied with the way he had to fill the jobs. “You can’t build a business on a lottery,” he said.
What the two business owners have in common is actually their reliance on the H-2B visa program, which allows unskilled workers coming from Mexico, the Philippines, Jamaica along with dozens of different countries to take temporary nonfarm jobs inside United States.
Debates over using foreign workers for seasonal labor — lower-wage jobs which Americans have spurned — have been as constant as the calendar. nevertheless a tight labor market along with the fraught politics of immigration have added fresh urgency to the issue in an election year when Republicans along with Democrats are wrestling for control in Congress.
Unions along with immigration opponents argue which the program suppresses wages along with deprives Americans of jobs. Advocacy groups contend which foreign workers are often exploited. Employers insist which the refusal to face up to the worker shortage just encourages businesses to hire undocumented immigrants surreptitiously at below-market wages.
nevertheless This kind of year, the conflicts have intensified. Record low unemployment rates have left landscapers, restaurants, hotels, amusement parks along with others scrambling for low-skilled seasonal labor. adjustments inside rules governing the program caught many employers by surprise, threatening the crab industry in Maryland along with tourist havens in Maine.
The visa program also feeds the roiling along with increasingly bitter debate over immigration.
To Mr. Steinhauer, “This kind of’s a labor issue which gets thrown into the immigration debate because people are coming coming from foreign countries, along with the country is actually so divided on which.”
Congress has capped the annual number of H-2B visas at 66,000 — evenly split between the winter along with summer seasons — although administrations have at times increased the allotment.
Workers coming from previous years used to be excluded coming from the quota, nevertheless Congress halted which practice in 2017 in response to complaints which foreigners undermined American workers. This kind of year, the traditional first-come, first-served system was replaced by a lottery after the government was swamped with applications. Some longtime users like Ms. Fox, who said she filed her application at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, were shut out.
Last month, after frantic requests, the Department of Homeland Security agreed to issue a different 15,000 visas. Ms. Fox got lucky along with snagged a dozen of those slots, though her crew, all veterans of previous seasons, is actually unlikely to arrive coming from Mexico until next month.
Applicants have to prove they can’t fill jobs. “You actually cannot find a reliable work force at $15 an hour,” the occupation’s prevailing wage in Colorado, Ms. Fox said. The area features a 2.5 percent jobless rate, so when This kind of comes to hiring, she said, “there’s just no worker bees here.”
A certified public accountant, Ms. Fox shakes her head when she hears economists insist which theory dictates which wages should rise until they are high enough to attract workers.
Her company, All Seasons Landscaping, is actually in Colorado’s Sixth Congressional District, which wraps around Denver like a question mark. This kind of has an unusually high proportion of college graduates along with an unusually low unemployment rate; the average annual salary for workers who are not self-employed is actually nearly $63,000.
Landscape work is actually harsh. Digging inside dirt along with heaving equipment in blistering heat produces aching backs along with raw hands. Low-skilled workers can earn a similar wage producing a sandwich or working in an air-conditioned warehouse.
“We put a $5,000 ad inside Denver Post, along with we didn’t have one applicant,” Ms. Fox said. Paying a wage high enough to attract local workers might put her out of business, she said.
Like Ms. Fox along with different landscapers, Mr. Steinhauer signed planting contracts with customers last year based on the assumption which his crews might earn roughly $15 an hour. “These are unskilled positions,” he said. “might you pay $50 to plant a bush in your garden?”
“With the economy as Great as This kind of is actually, I don’t know many families who are telling their kids to become landscape laborers,” Mr. Steinhauer said. “along with who wants to work a job where you get laid off in November along with then come back?”
Creating jobs, particularly for neglected blue-collar working men, along with reducing immigration have been at the center of President Trump’s agenda along having a lodestar for his supporters. Lower jobless rates support the Republicans’ case which the economy is actually improving. along with the increasingly hard line on immigration provides a framework for the administration’s policies on legal as well as illegal migrants.
At the same time, many tiny entrepreneurs along with merchants say they have found a kindred spirit in a businessman turned president who understands along with quickly responds to their needs. After all, H-2B workers are hired regularly at Mar-a-Lago, his country club in Palm Beach, Fla., along with different Trump properties.
These political crosscurrents are coursing through the Sixth District, which has one of the most closely watched midterm House races. A revision of the district’s boundaries combined with waves of immigrants along with refugees coming from Ethiopia, Mexico along with Nepal in recent decades has turned This kind of into one of the state’s most diverse. This kind of is actually one of 25 districts which sent a Republican representative to Washington in 2016 at the same time This kind of gave Hillary Clinton a plurality — in This kind of case, by a nine-point margin.
Defeating the a few-term Republican incumbent, Mike Coffman, is actually a critical part of the Democrats’ push to win back the House in November.
Mr. Coffman distanced himself coming from Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign, though he has supported him in more than 95 percent of his House votes. On immigration, Mr. Coffman has taken a more moderate line, supporting, for example, a permanent solution for the so-called Dreamers, undocumented adults who were brought to the United States as children. along with he recently called on the president to part ways with his adviser Stephen Miller over the family separation issue.
Ms. Fox, who describes herself as a fierce independent along having a “conservative by nature,” said which the Dreamers should be protected coming from deportation along with which she was disturbed which children were being separated coming from their parents at the border.
“I don’t agree with any of This kind of,” said Ms. Fox, who wants a long-term immigration policy. She hasn’t settled on her midterm vote yet, nevertheless said she liked Mr. Coffman.
As for the H-2B program, Mr. Steinhauer along with Ms. Fox said they did not blame Mr. Trump for its flaws, noting which there were similar problems under Presidents Barack Obama along with George W. Bush.
“I put the blame on Congress,” Ms. Fox said. “The whole issue is actually so toxic. Everyone in politics is actually afraid to do anything.”
Follow Patricia Cohen on Twitter: @patcohenNYT.