Building on an investigative piece published in July on the exploitation of foreign workers, a new piece by BuzzFeed (yes, that BuzzFeed) explores the harm that temporary worker programs do to American workers. The deeply researched article documents what anyone not on the Chamber of Commerce payroll already suspected: “that many businesses go to extraordinary lengths to skirt the law, deliberately denying jobs to American workers so they can hire foreign workers on H-2 visas instead.”
After seven years of the supposedly pro-worker Obama administration, BuzzFeed’s reporters showed, through interviews, court records, and government data, the following:
At the same time, companies across the country in a variety of industries have made it all but impossible for U.S. workers to learn about job openings that they are supposed to be given first crack at. When workers do find out, they are discouraged from applying. And if, against all odds, Americans actually get hired, they often are treated worse and paid less than foreign workers doing the same job, in order to drive the Americans to quit. Sometimes, as the government alleged happened at Hamilton Growers, employers comply with regulations by hiring Americans only to fire them en masse and hand over the work to foreign workers with H-2 visas.
What’s more, companies often do this with the complicity of government officials, records show. State and federal authorities have allowed companies to violate the spirit — and often the letter — of the law with bogus recruitment efforts that are clearly designed to keep Americans off the payroll. And when regulators are alerted to potential problems, the response is often ineffectual.
Buzzfeed didn’t just rely on interviews, for the perfectly understandable reason that shiftless slackers could lie just like corporate lobbyists lie. But when added to the mountain of documentary evidence, the interviews are damning. This from a woman in Moultrie, Georgia (my emphasis):
“They got rid of us,” said Mary Jo Fuller, referring to black workers. A field-worker on and off for most of her life, she said she was abruptly terminated from J&R Baker Farms, near Moultrie, as part of a mass firing in 2010. Unable to find other employment, the 59-year-old said she wound up homeless for more than a year. “We don’t really have jobs no more.”
Moultrie is “nowhere, really, for a young person trying to make it,” added Green. “It just makes you angry, very angry,” he said. “We right here in America, and you don’t want us to work. You’d rather get foreigners.”
Yes, they would indeed rather get foreigners. The article quotes a labor contractor for hotels, one Abrorkhodja Askarkhodjaev, who told BuzzFeed “Foreign people will clean two rooms in one hour. The American will not even finish in one hour one room…Foreigners are better. Of course I tried not to hire Americans.”
Askarkhodjaev is serving a 12-year term in federal prison for crimes related to visa fraud.
The piece summarizes the basic problem with guestworker programs:
Companies that have difficulty finding American workers could attract more applicants by offering higher wages. But instead of encouraging or even subsidizing that, the government’s H-2 program effectively subsidizes the opposite effort — helping companies find pliant foreign labor, often at the expense of American workers.