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March 30, 2008

H-1B year to begin again April 1

...and with it another round of frenzied applications for 65,000 slots, which are typically oversubscribed in the first day or two after April 1.

This Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) reports that “The visa stalemate has prompted some companies to expand overseas. In September, Microsoft opened its first software-development center in Canada, saying it enabled the company to recruit and retain highly skilled people "affected by immigration issues in the U.S."

The article in full:

Quota on Foreign Workers Worries Companies
March 31, 2008

U.S. businesses are bracing for another round of visa roulette, as applications for high-tech professionals -- accepted by the government starting Tuesday -- are expected to far outstrip supply.

The H-1B visas enable U.S. companies to hire skilled foreign workers for certain jobs that are difficult to fill domestically. Attorneys who help employers file petitions say they haven't seen a decline in interest despite the economic downturn. Last year, the U.S. government received 124,000 applications for H-1B visas, nearly double the congressionally mandated cap of 65,000, so the visas were awarded by lottery.

This year, visas will be granted to 65,000 individuals randomly chosen from a pool of petitions filed in the first five business days in April, as stipulated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that oversees the process. Selected foreign professionals can begin work at the employer that filed for them in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

Low unemployment in the high-tech sector coupled with the narrow window for petitioning for H-1Bs "will offset any softness in the overall economy," predicts Steve S. Miller, a Seattle attorney whose clients include many companies that employ foreign professionals. "We will end up with another lottery."

Greg Failla, chief executive of privately held Transpire Inc., which develops software for use in treating cancer patients, has his fingers crossed, while immigration proponents are making efforts in Congress to open the U.S. wider to foreign high-tech workers. Calls to expand the program have failed.

Transpire, of Gig Harbor, Washington, relies on workers with expertise in nuclear physics and engineering coupled with applied programming. "Only a handful of graduates each year in the U.S. have the ideal skill set for what we need," says Mr. Failla, whose company's software helps doctors to target radiotherapy on tumors. Transpire's software is also used in homeland security, fusion-power research, spacecraft design and oil exploration.

The company is submitting an H-1B application for a Serbian national with a background in physics-based numerical simulation software. "He has been working for us remotely for the past two years," Mr. Failla says. "But we can't put him on critical work until he is here in the U.S."

Transpire also hopes to hire a Venezuelan national who is due to graduate within months from a Texas university with a doctorate in nuclear engineering.

The H-1B visa allows 65,000 foreigners with at least a bachelor's degree and specific skills to work for a U.S. company for a six-year period. The program allocates an additional 20,000 visas to foreign nationals with advanced degrees from U.S. universities.

U.S. high-tech companies for years have called on Congress to increase the cap on visas for skilled foreigners. In testimony to Congress earlier this month, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates warned lawmakers that the U.S. risks losing its competitive edge in technology unless it can secure qualified workers.

"Other nations are benefiting from our misguided policies," Mr. Gates said. "They are revising their immigration policies to attract highly talented students and professionals who would otherwise study, live and work in the United States for at least part of their careers."

Changes to the H-1B visa program were included in the immigration-reform bill that failed in Congress last year.

The visa stalemate has prompted some companies to expand overseas. In September, Microsoft opened its first software-development center in Canada, saying it enabled the company to recruit and retain highly skilled people "affected by immigration issues in the U.S."

The week after Mr. Gates's testimony, two bills were introduced by legislators to raise the quota. A bill sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, would bring the number of H-1B visas to 195,000. A bill drafted by Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona would boost the cap and exempt foreigners educated at U.S. institutions from the quota.

A study released on March 10 by the National Foundation for American Policy, an Arlington, Virginia, policy-research group, found that on average every foreign national on an H-1B visa generates another five to 7.5 jobs, depending on the size of the technology company.

But critics contend that the H-1B program takes jobs from U.S. citizens, lowers wages and is exploited by foreign companies, particularly from India, that send workers to the U.S. for training and then return them home.

Some lawmakers, worker-advocacy groups and immigration restrictionists have voiced strong opposition to bringing more foreign workers to the U.S.

Write to Miriam Jordan at miriam.jordan@wsj.com

March 24, 2008

New York City area losing jobs due to visa barriers

According to the NY Times, The New York City metropolitan area is losing financial sector and other high paying jobs which are filled overseas because visas are so difficult to obtain. The primary visa category is the three year H-1B visas for professionals, of which 65,000 visas are awarded annually, plus 20,000 for graduates of American universities. Last year the quota was filled up on the first day, April 1. The article says, “Officials of large investment banks on Wall Street said the difficulty in obtaining visas for foreign workers, many of them graduates of American universities, had caused them to shift dozens of jobs to other financial capitals this year. In some cases, foreign-born professionals have grown weary of the struggle to get and renew a work visa in the United States and moved on to cities like London, where they say they feel more welcome.”

The article in full:

Businesses Say New York’s Clout Is Emigrating, With Visa Policies to Blame

New York officials have long taken pride in the city’s status as a global gateway. But lately, senior executives of some of the country’s biggest corporations, like Alcoa, have been complaining that American immigration policies are thwarting New York’s ability to compete with other world capitals.

Every big employer in the city, it seems, can cite an example of high-paying jobs that had to be relocated to foreign cities because the people chosen to fill them could not gain entry to the United States.

In Alcoa’s case, one of its chief financial executives, Vanessa Lau, who is from Hong Kong, is working from the company’s offices in Geneva when she should be at headquarters on Park Avenue, according to Alain J. P. Belda, the chairman and chief executive.

Officials of large investment banks on Wall Street said the difficulty in obtaining visas for foreign workers, many of them graduates of American universities, had caused them to shift dozens of jobs to other financial capitals this year. In some cases, foreign-born professionals have grown weary of the struggle to get and renew a work visa in the United States and moved on to cities like London, where they say they feel more welcome.

“In a company like ours, we have people moving all over the place all the time,” Mr. Belda said. “This visa situation is causing difficulty.”

Mr. Belda is particularly frustrated, given that he is a Moroccan-born citizen of Brazil whom Alcoa brought to the United States in the early 1990s when immigration rules were looser. Now, with visas for immigrants with special skills tightly controlled and awarded in an annual lottery in early April, managing a global enterprise from New York can be a competitive disadvantage, he said.

“After 9/11, it just became more and more complicated,” Mr. Belda said. “You’re fighting to get everybody in, “he said, then fighting for renewal of their visas so that they can stay more than three years. “How do you move somebody with a family if they don’t know they’re going to be renewed?” he said.

Until now, visa restrictions have been seen as a problem that primarily affected technology companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in the West. Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, has been railing against them for years.

But according to the Partnership for New York City, a business advocacy group, there is more demand for visas for specialized jobs in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut than in California, and most of the demand comes from small and midsize companies, not the largest corporations. The partnership, whose members include many of the city’s biggest employers, has lobbied legislative leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles E. Schumer, for a relaxation of visa policies.

“New York’s ability to compete with London, which has much more open immigration, or with the emerging financial capitals in Asia and the Middle East, depends on mobility of talent, both in terms of new and current employees,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the partnership. “What people miss is, New York’s standing as an international capital of business and finance depends on the professionals within these companies being able to come to New York to be trained and groomed for leadership positions around the world.”

Indeed, companies are capitalizing on more open visa policies elsewhere to recruit some of the leaders educated and trained in New York. Gaurav Gaur, for example, an Indian who earned his M.B.A. from Cornell in 2004, said he seized the chance to leave New York last year for London to work for Barclays, though it meant turning his back on opportunities at Bloomberg L.P. and other American companies.

“The whole visa situation was one of the biggest reasons that I took the job,” Mr. Gaur said in a telephone interview from London, where he is a senior project manager for the British bank. “I didn’t want to keep going through this uncertainty — it’s just a nightmare.”

In New York, Mr. Gaur, 33, had managed to secure one of the three-year visas for professionals known as H-1B visas, and he probably could have renewed it for another three years, he said. But after that he knew he would be faced with the prospect of year-to-year renewals while he waited in a long and unpredictable line for permanent residency — and remained tethered to whatever company was sponsoring him for a green card.

Moreover, he said, his wife, Bhavna, who has a master’s degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis, had work visa woes of her own in a field where few employers were familiar with the H-1B program.

In Britain, he said, “it’s drastically different.” There is no cap on work visas, and since he had a work permit, his wife was automatically allowed to work; she quickly found a good social work job.

“If I stay here for five years,” he added, “I automatically become eligible for a green card, for permanent residency.”

In the United States, companies apply for the three-year H-1B visas annually, starting on April 1. The demand typically far outstrips the total supply of visas, limited to 65,000 a year, with an additional 20,000 available for those with advanced degrees from American universities. Last year 120,000 applications came in on April 1 alone, including hundreds of duplicates, and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services conducted a lottery for the first time.

This year, officials warned, multiple petitions by the same company for one candidate will be disqualified, to prevent businesses from trying to game the system.

In 2006, more than 10,000 companies sought H-1B visas for jobs in New York City, according to the partnership’s analysis in a soon-to-be-published report. Only about one-tenth of those applications came from the country’s 1,000 biggest companies, it said.

Data about who holds these visas and where they work is closely guarded. But judging by the applications filed, the partnership concluded that the greatest demand is from the New York area.

More than one-fifth — 21 percent — of the applications were for jobs in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, according to the report, titled “Winning the Global Race for Talent.” In contrast, about 18.2 percent of the H-1B visa applications were for jobs in California. Texas ranked fourth behind New York and New Jersey with about 7.7 percent of the applications, according to the report. A survey by the partnership found that employers had complaints about other immigration policies, including long delays in obtaining visas for employees transferring from offices in other countries and visas for their employees to make short-term visits to the United States. They also said they were constrained by big backlogs on applications for employment-based green cards, which offer permanent residency to sponsored workers.

The partnership recommended adjusting the cap on H-1B visas to meet demand and more than doubling the annual limit on employment-based green cards to 290,000 from 140,000. It also suggested exempting workers with advanced degrees in science and math from any cap on H-1B visas and extending the term of visas for workers receiving practical training to 29 months from 12 months.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which advocates less immigration, dismissed the partnership’s argument as merely “trying to bend the law to benefit them financially.”

The H-1B visa program creates a form of indentured worker whose pay, on average, is lower than that of American counterparts, Mr. Krikorian contended. The only morally defensible way to bring workers into the country, he said, is with green cards that allow them to quit working for the sponsoring employer and stay in the United States. Still, he added that he opposed increasing the number of such green cards without the immigration service’s raising its standards “so that it’s really Einstein immigration.”

Ms. Wylde disagrees.

“It’s a 20th-century, pre-globalization mentality that thinks somehow American companies and jobs can grow if we cut ourselves off from foreign talent,” she said.

March 20, 2008

New Bedford raid follow up: Boston millionaire puts up bail for 40

Last year ICE raided a textile factory in New Bedford, MA, hauling away hundreds and splitting families apart. (I have posted on this.) The Wall Street Journal (sub required) reported on 3/19, “Boston Financier Steps In to Bail Out Illegal Immigrants; Textile-Factory Raid Spurred Him to Act; 'Un-American' Images”. Bob Hildreth, who runs a financial company in Boston, had spent time in South America, He put up $200,000 to release 40 people from jail. “The raid broke families apart," says the diminutive 57-year-old, who once taught high-school history. "This was extremely un-American."

The full story:

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. -- One frigid March morning last year, federal agents raided a factory in this old whaling town, arresting hundreds of illegal immigrants as they sewed vests and backpacks for U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most were shackled and sent to a detention center in Texas, where they faced rapid deportation unless they could post thousands of dollars in bail -- money they didn't have -- to buy time to mount a defense.

Then, a mystery benefactor appeared. The anonymous donor ponied up more than $200,000 to spring 40 people from detention.

The payments, which until now haven't become public despite extensive news coverage of the raid itself, came from Bob Hildreth, a Boston financier who made his millions trading Latin American debt. He was "infuriated" at the televised images of workers being shipped to Texas, he says. Helping them make bail is "payback."

The raid broke families apart," says the diminutive 57-year-old, who once taught high-school history. "This was extremely un-American."

In the annals of philanthropy, donations of bail money are unusual. They are also risky for the giver. While none of his recipients have skipped out on bail, it is a real possibility, since the chances of winning the right to remain legally in the U.S. are slim. Bail-skippers would open Mr. Hildreth to criticism that he helped people evade the law.

"He's going to hear that he's helping these people stay here who have no right to stay here," says Harvey Kaplan, a Boston immigration lawyer who represents some of the immigrants. "He'll get hate mail."

Most of the people whom Mr. Hildreth helped bail out did enter the U.S. illegally, their lawyers acknowledge. The question will be whether they can claim political asylum or make other arguments to win the right to stay.

The factory raid has been a hot topic around New Bedford, where prominent local talk-radio host Ken Pittman has taken a strong stance against illegal immigration. Upon hearing of Mr. Hildreth's payments, Mr. Pittman said: "I would ask him to show the same compassion for American workers displaced by these illegal aliens."

A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency that staged the raid, declined to say whether it knew who posted the bail. She said any person is free to post bond for anyone.

Mr. Hildreth is a multimillionaire who built his fortune trading in Latin American bonds during the 1980s debt crisis that gripped the region. "I love making money," says Mr. Hildreth, who recently traded in his 20-year-old Volvo for an orange Mini Cooper.

He also professes a lifelong love affair with Latin America. As an economist with the International Monetary Fund, he lived in Bolivia in the 1980s. Later, after returning to the U.S., he began trading in Latin American loans at Wall Street giants including Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. He now runs his own small firm, International Bank Services, which buys and sells corporate debt.

The descendant of Irish immigrants and of Puritans who settled in Boston in 1632, he twice tried his hand teaching, following in the footsteps of his parents, both of whom were teachers. Both times, however, he returned to finance.

A Key Moment

A key moment, he says, was a verbal spat with a student over abuse of bathroom-pass privileges. "After four months teaching, I found out I stunk at it," he says. "I'm an investment banker."

Instead, he decided to use his money to improve education for immigrants. Over the past two decades, he says, he has given several million dollars to fund literacy and citizenship classes in Lynn, Mass., to build a preschool in an immigrant-heavy Boston neighborhood, and to set up an endowed chair in Latin American studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

The factory raid last March was one of the largest in the nation in recent years. A total of 361 people were arrested. Some were detained on the East Coast, but most were dispatched to Texas, home to particularly tough immigration judges.

The factory's former owner, Francesco Insolia, was arraigned in August in federal district court in Boston on charges of harboring and recruiting illegal immigrants. Efforts to reach Mr. Insolia's lawyers were unsuccessful yesterday. The factory is now under new ownership.
Associated Press/File
Maria Escotto shares a moment with her daughter at Our Lady of Guadalupe church on March, 9, 2007. She was detained in the immigration raid on the Michael Bianco factory on March 6.

Images of shackled prisoners stumbling as they boarded a plane for Texas are what spurred Mr. Hildreth to call Greater Boston Legal Services, a nonprofit group coordinating a legal response to the raid. "I told them to contact me if they had some bonds that needed to be paid," he recalls.

Nancy Kelly, an attorney at the group, says: "It was almost too good to be true."

Mr. Hildreth agreed to help individuals post bail if they or their families would also put up a significant chunk of money. The legal-aid group, GBLS, would email Mr. Hildreth with individual requests. He would then wire the money back to the lawyers.

Last May 3, for example, GBLS attorney John Willshire-Carrera sent Mr. Hildreth an email that read: "Bob, we have two more for tomorrow, if possible....Bond set at 5,000, family is paying 2,500. Bond set at 7,500, family is paying 2,000."

The following morning, Mr. Hildreth emailed his response: "8k sent."

Mr. Hildreth says the $200,000 tab "ended up being much more than I thought it would be."

$28,000 Bail

Typically in cases like these, bail is set somewhere between $1,500 to $7,000, although the number can be much higher. For instance, bail for one detainee, Luis Lopez, was set at $28,000 by a judge who is known for particularly high figures.

"It took me a little while to get my mind around that one," says Mr. Hildreth, who contributed $23,000. Mr. Lopez's family paid $5,000.

At an event earlier this month in New Bedford to mark the anniversary of the factory raid, hundreds of immigrant families gathered to offer support. Many are Guatemalans of Mayan descent; party-goers sipped cups of hot milk and rice, a traditional Mayan drink.

"What's this?" asked Mr. Hildreth when someone handed him a cup.

The last person to benefit from Mr. Hildreth's help was also the last person on the factory floor during the raid. Manuel Perez, who is deaf, was working on a double-needle sewing machine. He was oblivious to the commotion unfolding around him until he finally noticed that his co-workers were "hiding behind boxes," he recalled recently.

"I am happy to be back with my family," he added, now back in Massachusetts after getting bailed out in Texas. "I hope to get a work permit."

So far, two cases involving Mr. Hildreth have been resolved, according to the legal-aid group. One person decided to seek asylum in Canada and another accepted voluntary removal to Guatemala.

Mr. Hildreth recently was told that, once cases like these are resolved, the bail money gets returned to him. So he plans to set it aside as a bail fund for future cases.

"I had no idea the money would come back," he says. "I had never bailed out anybody in my life."

March 14, 2008

Seasonal immigrant workers severely cut back, pawn in immigration bill struggle

According to the NY Times, a Congressional confrontation has resulted in a severe reduction of seasonal immigrant workers, badly hurting the summer hospitality and restaurant industry. These workers enter through H-2B visas, 66,000 in a year. The times reports that since 2005 an override as been authorized by Congress allowing over 120,000 such workers. These include the Poles and Brazilians who staff the local summer ice cream parlor and wait at summer resort restaurants and stay at employer-provided housing. Cape Cod alone will be almost entirely bereft of 5,000 such workers, who cannot be replaced easily by Americans, as few candidates live nearby due to high housing costs. The Hispanic Congressional caucus has engineered to cripple this override this summer in order to put pressure on Congress to enact an comprehensive immigration reform bill.

The article:

Businesses Face Cut in Immigrant Work Force

HYANNIS, Mass. — For years, William Zammer Jr. has relied on 100 seasonal foreign employees to turn down beds, boil lobsters and serve cocktails at the restaurants, golf course and inn he owns on Cape Cod and in nearby Plymouth.

This summer, however, the foreign workers will not be returning, and Mr. Zammer, like other seasonal employers across the nation, is scrambling to find replacements.

“It’s a major crisis,” he said. “We’re very short on work force. We’ll be looking at opening a little later, closing a little earlier, looking at how we do our menus.”

Mr. Zammer is caught up in a Congressional standoff over immigration overhaul that is punishing employers who play by the rules and that, advocates of change say, could cost small companies billions in lost business.

In an effort to win support for a comprehensive immigration overhaul, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and its allies have blocked voting on legislation that would allow employers to rehire foreign seasonal nonagricultural workers independent of a 1991 quota.

As a result, the government is limited to issuing the 66,000 seasonal work visas set when the visa program, known as H-2B, became law — 33,000 for winter workers and 33,000 for summer workers. Last year, more than 120,000 foreign workers entered the country on H-2B visas.

For Cape Cod, the impact has been devastating. Employers will receive only 15 of the 5,000 visas they had requested, according to the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s just ruthless for the Hispanic caucus to do this, use it as a bargaining chip,” said Mr. Zammer, whose foreign workers — mostly from Jamaica and Eastern Europe — normally make up 25 percent of his staff. “We’re working at finding new people. We have to. But it’s extremely difficult, because you end up stealing from other people who are also trying to get help.”

Returning workers became exempt from the cap in 2005, when Congress passed the Save our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act, and President Bush signed it into law. The act expired in 2007, and Congress passed a one-year extension that was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act. The extension expired on Sept. 30, 2007, the end of the 2007 fiscal year.

Employers say that unless Congress acts soon, they will have to scale back operations, because the labor pool in many resort areas is not deep enough to provide new workers, and many people do not want seasonal jobs.

Patti Ann Moskwa, owner of the Yankee Rebel Tavern on Mackinac Island, Mich., plans to cut back dinner hours because she will be understaffed this summer. She said the 15 foreign workers who cooked and cleared tables at her restaurant were more than employees.

“They’re like our family,” Ms. Moskwa said. “You don’t want to be the person to call these people and tell them the government won’t let them back. It’s a sad situation for us and the workers.”

Republicans in Congress have resisted immigration overhaul, insisting that the focus be first on enforcing current laws. The Hispanic Caucus contends that a broad overhaul is needed and that legislation exempting returning foreign workers from the cap on visas should be part of it.

“I recognize that H-2B visa fixes are an important part of the immigration crisis,” said Representative Joe Baca, Democrat of California and chairman of the Hispanic Caucus. “But that should be just another check mark in the column as to why this Congress must take real action on immigration reform.”

A bipartisan coalition of 182 members of Congress has co-sponsored measures sponsored by Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, and Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, that would allow returning workers back.

“The H-2B visa program is being held hostage,” said Representative Bill Delahunt, a Democrat who represents Cape Cod. “We’re talking about a stimulus package, and yet we’re putting at risk regional economies from the East Coast to the West Coast and many sections of the country in between.”

Representative Charles Boustany Jr., Republican of Louisiana, has introduced a measure that calls for immediate consideration of Mr. Stupak’s bill. Congressional aides involved in the negotiations over the measure said Democratic leaders were discussing a compromise measure with the Hispanic Caucus and others.

Some advocates for business owners argue that employers who go to the trouble of hiring legal employees are being unfairly punished.

“It’s kind of sad that those who have followed the law, paid an inordinate amount of money to follow the law by paying attorneys’ fees, prevailing wage and following the rules, are those who are getting hurt,” said Don Mooers, an immigration lawyer working with Save Small Businesses, a group of small business owners lobbying for the cap to be lifted.

“I get that question every day, ‘Why are we following the law when the guy down the street isn’t, and I’m the one who may face going out of business,’ ” Mr. Mooers said

Here on Cape Cod, the need for imported seasonal labor is especially acute, as 25 percent of residents are over 65 and high real estate prices have driven many blue-collar workers elsewhere.

“We have a very old population, twice the national average of people on Medicare and we’re losing population to other parts of the country because of our affordable housing problem,” said Wendy Northcross, chief executive of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “We’re losing the population that could potentially take some of our seasonal jobs.”

D. J. Vander Silk, owner of D. J.’s Lawn Service in Grand Rapids, Mich., said he had planned to hire 30 workers from Mexico on temporary seasonal visas, but will not get any. “I feel like we’re right on the edge,” he said. “There’s a robber outside the house and we’re about to get hit in the head.”

Now Mr. Vander Silk and his 20 remaining employees are not accepting new clients and are trying to recruit workers from Florida and the local community. The homes he bought a few years ago to shelter the temporary workers will remain empty for the near future.

“We’re in uncharted waters,” he said.

Sandy Munley, executive director of the Ohio Landscape Association, said the industry employed about 3,000 H-2B workers in Ohio last year, and did not know how many would return. Many contractors are giving away jobs to businesses with adequate staffing, Ms. Munley said.

“This industry tends to be very supportive of each other,” she said, “but I don’t think anything’s ever come to this degree, where people are giving away work. Typically, contractors tend to get it done, but they all definitely say this is historic in a sad way.”

Jim Royal, who operates Kelly Miller Circuses, said he could not find employees to assemble big tops for his traveling circus. He usually relies on 25 H-2B workers from Mexico.

“It’s affecting virtually every circus in America,” Mr. Royal said. “We’re still on hold. We’ve applied and haven’t gotten anything. We’re trying desperately to recruit, but the artists will probably have to help out.”

March 7, 2008

CT's strategy to cut down on illegal workers

I have posted often on the tight association of hiring illegal workers with failure to take out workers comp insurance. Now WorkCompCentral, a leading source of information about workers compensation (subscription required) reports how Connecticut regulators are using stop work orders on uninsured job sites in part to crack down on hiring of undocumented workers. “The Connecticut Department of Labor's use of a six-month-old law that allows investigators to stop work at job sites where workers aren't covered by workers' compensation insurance has proven a key tool in running unscrupulous subcontractors out of the state and cracking down on the use of undocumented crews, a top regulator said Thursday…. In some cases, investigators found undocumented workers being paid "off the books" without workers' compensation insurance. In others, construction companies bought coverage but grossly underestimated the size of their payrolls, he said.”

According to WorkCompCentral, the state legislature decided to use this strategy to crack down on use of illegal labor when other strategies were deemed to be in conflict with federal law.

The report in full:

Gary Pechie, director of Wage and Workplace Standards for the labor agency, said legislation that took effect last Oct. 1 gave his investigators their first role in enforcing insurance laws, and has prompted 10 stop-work orders so far.

In some cases, investigators found undocumented workers being paid "off the books" without workers' compensation insurance. In others, construction companies bought coverage but grossly underestimated the size of their payrolls, he said.

Pechie said the legislation passed with overwhelming support in the Connecticut General Assembly. The Legislature passed the bill after finding that other approaches to crack down on the use of undocumented workers were in conflict with federal law.

"We wanted to do something about illegal aliens," Pechie said. "What we discovered is that we could go in and stop work, and the contractor would either get a workers' compensation policy the next day or leave the state."

The Connecticut legislation was patterned after a Florida's 2003 workers' compensation reform provision, which gave that state's Division of Workers' Compensation the power to issue stop-work orders.

Much like the Florida law, Connecticut labor officials can issue fines of $1,000 a day for noncompliance and another $300 per employee, if an employer refused to open his or her books to investigators.

Pechie said the Wage and Workplace Standards group trained with state investigators in West Palm Beach, Fla., before applying the new law.

"These illegal workers have been exploited. Not only do the employers not have workers' compensation coverage, but they're paying them less than the minimum wage. Most of them are treated as workers. The companies declare them as independent contractors."

On Monday, Pechie's unit shut down parts of job sides at two large Stamford condominium projects in Stamford, Conn., based on noncompliance with workers' compensation laws.

Pechie said the agency did not shut down all work at the job site. But it did stop work by Avel Contractors and Ruffino Carpentry, of Stamford, and Tennessee-based National Carpentry.

He said the agency has another case pending against National Carpentry.

He said the agency has focused on the construction industry but is expanding its site checks to include Connecticut restaurants.

On Monday, a federal judge in Kalamazoo, Mich., handed down lengthy prison terms and combined restitution orders for nearly $50 million to three principals of a Florida janitorial service who provided undocumented janitors and groundskeepers to well-known restaurant chains across the nation, including Planet Hollywood, House of Blues, Hard Rock Café and Dave and Busters.

Prosecutors said 200 workers from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico were paid "off the books" in cash to avoid the payment of federal payroll, Social Security and Medicare taxes in the Michigan case.

"We're finding bottom feeders in the restaurant and construction areas," Pechie said.

Source: WorkCompCentral

March 3, 2008

Immigrant votes in 2008

The Migration Policy Institute has analyzed the growth of the foreign born population and estimated the number of foreign born among projected 2008 voters. Here are data from three states:

California – foreign born grew as percentage of total population from 26.2% in 2000 to 27.2% in 2006. Hispanic voters (foreign and domestic born) are expected to be 16.8% of the vote. Since Hispanics comprise 55% of foreign born, the total foreign born voter block will certainly be much higher.

Texas - percentage of total population foreign born grew form 13.9% in 2000 to 15.9% in 2006. Hispanics are expected to be 18% of projected voters. Hispanics or Latinos make up 74% of the foreign born.

Ohio, foreign born share of total population grew from 3.0% in 2000 to 3.6% in 2006. Foreign born voters are projected to be 1.6% of all voters.