Last year, I had the honor of being invited to the Chamber of Commerce for a forum entitled Immigration Reform for a Better America. Some of the major players in the immigration debate converged in one place to promote and discuss the ill-fated immigration reform bill proposed by the Senate. Powerful politicians and bureaucrats, representatives of multi-million dollar companies, top-ranked attorneys and other influential members of the immigration community offered their opinions on immigration reform.
The forum is held in the historic Hall of Flags, a beautiful room within the Chamber of Commerce. Since I am a history fanatic, I have to take a moment to describe the area located at the back of the first floor. When I entered the room, my eyes were not on the hundreds of professionals that filled the room. Rather, they immediately rose to the ceiling, where huge old-world flags cradled huge chandeliers, both suspended from a ceiling decorated with the support of wooden beams carved with the names of famous explorers. The marble walls completed the effect, giving the room the aura of a 16th century castle banquet hall. Within this medieval European New World setting immigration reform was to be discussed.
Various immigration topics ran throughout the day, but what surprised me the most was the presentation on low-skilled immigration. I had my own views on the impact of low-skilled immigrant workers coming to the US because at the time there was a constant dispute over high unemployment and a shaky economy. A recognizable phrase summed it up like this: They took our jobs!
In a word: false. Of course, some low-skilled American workers have lost their jobs in recent decades and they may have been replaced by immigrants. But the idea that immigration supplants American workers is as inaccurate as thinking that the earth revolves around the moon. The simple fact is that immigrant workers find work in empty and underemployed fields. And companies will hire both legal and illegal immigrants, because there is work that needs to be done and Americans are simply not applying for these jobs. Low-skilled jobs remain essential in the United States, and the continuing disappearance of manufacturing jobs doesn’t mean that low-skilled jobs are disappearing as well.
The areas discussed were construction, child care, food preparation, and gardening. I can only assume that the field work was not being discussed because without the foreign work, oranges, peanuts, sweet potatoes and peaches would be rotting in the fields while domestic workers are reeling in these jobs. But the four areas mentioned above depend on foreign labor, just as much as the agriculture industry.
The actual numbers reflect the absolute need for foreign labor. Over the next decade, it is estimated that there will be around three million low-skilled jobs created. Meanwhile, 1.7 million Americans are entering the workforce, of whom only about 150,000 will have less than a high school diploma. Our current immigration laws allow 300,000 to 500,000 W visas in this decade. The H2B visa is for seasonal jobs, and will not apply to the three million new jobs. Illegal immigrants undoubtedly constitute the balance of this formula.
The unemployment rate has decreased from 8% to 6% since I attended this forum. But the need for labor has not diminished in some fields. The healthcare industry in particular needs workers, as does the food industry. Americans just don’t go to these jobs. Some do not want to work, others have life problems or are temporarily unable to work, and some fail background or drug tests, all of which add to the unemployment rate and the difficulty for certain industries to meet their demand from the hand of construction site.
W visas are difficult to obtain because the numerical limitation does not reflect the need. W visas go as fast as H1B visas. There is little room for doubt in my mind that the number of W visas that are issued need to match demand. As long as there is a need for workers, companies will find a way to fill that need with little regard for immigration status. When this happens, it increases the rate of illegal immigration, puts businesses at risk, and allows immigration to easily target those workplaces and harass people who are here in the United States to work and to contribute to our economy.
I want to deflate the argument that “they took our jobs”, if there is air in it. In 2012, there were 465,000 unemployed Americans. Seven of these Americans applied for seasonal labor. They took the job at 30% or more of the minimum wage ($ 9 + an hour). In percentage, the number looks like this: 0.000016% of Americans took a field job. Immigrants are NOT taking jobs. They work hard in the heat, in dangerous conditions, and put in long hours in hospitals, retirement homes, and meatpacking plants. Immigrants take the toughest and most dangerous domestic jobs, jobs Americans don’t want. And in doing so, immigrant workers consume products, keep industries alive, displace work at home (which encourages women to go to school and work), and create more mid-level manager positions.
Ryan Morgan Knight is an attorney associated with Fayad Law, PC and handles all types of immigration cases in the Richmond office. Contact Fayad Law, PC if you need help with an immigration matter.
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