Bloomberg Magazine: lunacy of immigration policy for educated immigrants

BloombergBusinessweek published an editorial on October 25 on the impasse on immigration reforms for highly educated immigrants.
“On one critical component of policy—the treatment of highly skilled workers—a strong consensus exists that a more liberal regime is crucial for U.S. economic prospects.”
It goes on:
House Republicans arranged a floor vote in September on a measure that would have offered more residency visas to immigrants with advanced science, technology, engineering, and math degrees, but set it up to fail by reducing the number of visas overall (which Democrats oppose).
For their part, Democrats think it best to hold the skilled-immigration rules hostage until they can get a more comprehensive agreement (which Republicans tend to resist). We applaud the objective, because we too favor comprehensive reform of the system. But it is time to abandon politically motivated yet economically harmful strategies.
It would be hard to exaggerate the lunacy of U.S. rules on skilled immigration. We know of no other advanced economy that skews its policies so severely against the workers in greatest demand. Most countries see themselves as competing to attract that kind of immigrant, recognizing that human capital is an important driver of economic success.
Many emigrants from India excel in engineering and other technical skills. Yet India’s quota, small in relation to its pool of outstanding applicants, artificially restricts their numbers.

Civil rights suits against temporary worker visa violators

H-2A and H-2B (temporary agricultural worker) visa programs have been riddled with abuses by employers against workers who may pay thousands of dollars for the right to work in the United States. A tangled litany of law suits an federal disciplinary actions is found here. I have previously posted on the agricultural firm Global Horizons. Now, the firm has been hit from a new corner with charges of illegal trafficking.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits national origin and race discrimination and retaliation for opposing discriminatory practices. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Global Horizons for civil rights violations. The EEOC has sued Signal International for similar violations. Below are excerpts from EEOC press releases:
EEOC Files Its Largest Farm Worker Human Trafficking Suit Against Global Horizons, Farms
Federal Agency Says Labor Contractor and Eight Farms Discriminated Against Hundreds of Thai Farm Workers Trafficked into Hawaii, Washington
LOS ANGELES – In its largest human trafficking case in agriculture to date, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced that it filed lawsuits in Hawaii and Washington against Global Horizons Inc., a Beverly Hills-based farm labor contractor, and eight farms. The EEOC contends that Global Horizons engaged in a pattern or practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, when it trafficked over 200 Thai male victims to farms in Hawaii and Washington where they were subjected to severe abuse. Hundreds of additional potential claimants and witnesses are expected, according to the EEOC.
The EEOC asserts that between 2003 and 2007, Global Horizons enticed Thai male nationals into working at the farms with the false promises of steady, high-paying agricultural jobs along with temporary visas allowing them to live and work in the U.S. legally. The opportunity came at a price: high recruitment fees creating an insurmountable debt for the Thai workers. When they reached the U.S., Global Horizons confiscated the workers’ passports and threatened deportation if they complained, which set the tone for the abuses to come.
The Thai workers were assigned to work at six farms in Hawaii (Captain Cook Coffee Company, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii, and Maui Pineapple Farms) and two farms in Washington (Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards), harvesting a variety of items from pineapples to coffee beans. The EEOC asserts that the farms not only ignored abuses, but also participated in the obvious mistreatment, intimidation, harassment, and unequal pay of the Thai workers..
The EEOC filed its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii (EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc. d/b/a Global Horizons Manpower, Inc., Captain Cook Coffee Company, Ltd. et al. Case No. CV-11-00257-DAE-RLP) and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington (EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc. d/b/a Global Horizons Manpower, Inc., Green Acre Farms, Inc. et al, Case No. 2:11-cv-03045-EFS), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The EEOC’s suit argues that the alleged conduct constitutes retaliation, national origin and race discrimination which violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the victims, as well as injunctive relief intended to prevent further abuses at the companies and farms.
EEOC Sues Marine Services Company for Labor Trafficking, Discrimination
Signal International Harassed and Mistreated Workers Recruited From India, Federal Agency Charged
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit today against Signal International, LLC, charging that the Gulf of Mexico marine services company violated federal law by subjecting a class of approximately 500 Indian employees to human labor trafficking and a hostile work environment.
The EEOC charged in its lawsuit that Signal subjected the Indian employees as a class to abuse based on national origin (Indian) and/or race (Asian). The agency charged Signal with disparate, discriminatory treatment concerning the workers’ terms and conditions of employment, as well as segregating them. Finally, the EEOC lawsuit alleges Signal retaliated against Sabulal Vijayan and Joseph Jacob Kadakkarappally because they opposed Signal’s unlawful conduct.

Continue reading Civil rights suits against temporary worker visa violators

Critique of H-2A farmworker visa program

Congress held hearings this week on the seasonal agricultural worker program called H-2A. Testimony by the president of Farmworker Justice included this: “More than one million undocumented farm workers are making U.S. agriculture productive. We need to stabilize the workforce and keep agriculture productive by allowing undocumented workers to obtain legal immigration status and by improving wages and working conditions. “
The program currently brings in about 30,000 workers a year, somewhat more than 1% of America’s farm workforce.
Summary of Testimony: Bruce Goldstein, President, Farmworker Justice, before the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement April 13, 2011
Mr. Chairman and Members: Thank you for the opportunity to testify about the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.
The H-2A program is deeply flawed and should not be a vehicle for filling the nation’s 2 to 2 ½ million jobs on farms and ranches. In addition, Congress should not get mired in previously-fought battles.. Many agribusiness groups lobbied in the 1990’s for changes to “streamline” the H-2A program by cutting worker protections and reducing government oversight. Their legislation would have created a system of exploitable guestworkers and set their wages and other job terms at unconscionably low levels. These efforts failed, as did efforts of farmworker advocates to pass their own policy proposals. Recognizing the need for a policy solution and the inadequacy of the H-2A program, growers and workers reached a compromise, known as the AgJOBS bill. That compromise would allow eligible undocumented farmworkers to earn legal immigration status, revise the H-2A program in balanced ways, and provide America with a stable, productive and decently-treated farm labor force.
The Bush Administration, in its last few days, made drastic, anti-worker changes to the H-2A program: the wage formula changes reduced earnings by $1.00 to $2.00 per hour, key recruitment protections for US workers were eliminated, and government oversight in an already abusive program was restricted.
Fortunately, the Department of Labor under Secretary of Labor Solis reversed these harmful changes, although for more than one year, thousands of U.S. farmworkers and guestworkers at H-2A employers suffered low wages and other harm. The Department also instituted additional common-sense protections, such as a surety bond requirement for labor contractors, a requirement to disclose job terms to workers by the time of the visa application, and increased opportunity for US workers to learn about H-2A employers’ jobs via an online job posting.

Continue reading Critique of H-2A farmworker visa program

“Close to Slavery” ; guest worker programs

“Close to Slavery”: Guest workers programs
I just stumbled across a 2007 study on guest worker programs, Close to Slavery, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center. As the SPLC says, “This report details the systematic exploitation of foreign workers who come to this country for temporary jobs under the nation’s H-2 guestworker program. Based on dozens of legal cases and interviews with thousands of guestworkers, it documents how guestworkers are routinely cheated out of wages, forced to mortgage their futures to obtain low-wage, temporary jobs, and held virtually captive by employers.”

Green card activity, 2009

The Department of Homeland Security reported on green card activity in 2009, in the process providing a succinct overview of green cards. Green cards are given to legal permanent residents. In 2009, a total of 1,130,818 persons became LPRs of the United States. The majority of new LPRs (59%) already lived in the United States when they were granted lawful permanent residence. Nearly two-thirds were granted permanent resident status based on a family relationship with a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States. The leading countries of birth of new LPRs were Mexico (15%), China (6%), and the Philippines (5%).
A legal permanent resident (LPR) or “green card” recipient is defined by immigration law as a person who has been granted lawful permanent residence in the United States. Permanent resident status confers certain rights and responsibilities. For example, LPRs may live and work permanently anywhere in the United States, own property, and attend public schools, colleges, and universities. They may also join certain branches of the Armed Forces, and apply to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain eligibility requirements. This Office of Immigration Statistics Annual Flow Report presents information obtained from applications for LPR status on the number and characteristics of persons who became LPRs in the United States during 2009.1
Green cards can be awarded expressly for employment reasons, limited to 140,000 per year; thus about 13% of green cards in 2009 were awarded for employment “preferences.” The 140,000 applies to the workers – their spouses and children are in addition to the 140,000.
Employment preferences consist of five categories of workers (and their spouses and children): priority workers (about 41,000 in 2009); professionals with advanced degrees or aliens of exceptional ability (46,000) ; skilled workers, professionals (without advanced degrees), and needed unskilled workers; special immigrants (e.g., ministers, religious workers, and employees of the U.S. government abroad)( 40,000); and employment creation immigrants or “investors” (3,000).

How foreign college students become American workers

From F-1 (student visa) to H-1B (temporary worker visa) to Green Card: this is the path which David North, of the Center for Immigration Studies takes us down, using Indian students as primary examples. Several quotes from his informative article:

“….The H-1B program is part of a nearly seamless web that starts in the undergraduate years at one of India’s technical colleges and ends, with luck and skill, as a green card-holder. As a second-prize one gets six to eight years of legal employment in one of America’s high-tech industries and as a third prize (my own judgment here) one becomes the holder of a valued U.S. university degree, an excellent thing to have if working in India.”
“I get a strong sense of a supporting international network functioning for many of the students, including the high-tech universities in India, American universities, American employers, and above all else, the American immigration system. The apparently smooth functioning of all parts of this system facilitates the entry into the American labor market of this population, in a way that many believe disadvantages U.S. workers.”
“I must say, though this may irritate some of my colleagues, that the potential H-1B workers I have been talking to constitute an attractive group of people: talented, well-educated, and the Indians among them, at least, have an excellent command of English. They have all survived a series of fitness contests on their way to nonimmigrant workers’ jobs. It is no wonder that employers are anxious to hire them.”
The article in full:
Looking at the H-1B Process Through the Eyes of the Participants
By David North
April 2010
It is often useful to look at an immigration program, step-by-step, through the eyes of the participants; in earlier years I did this with people seeking naturalization, legalization applicants, and green-card holders who lived in Mexico and worked in the United States.
Recently, I started doing this vis-à-vis the H-1B program; one gets a more nuanced view of the program that supplements reading studies, statistics, and statements made by supporters and opponents of the program.

Continue reading How foreign college students become American workers

H-2B Guest worker woes

Here is a thoughtful article written for human resource executives about the perils of the H-2B program – the guest worker program used for low wage workers. The article focuses on the problem of recruiting firms which mislead recruits in the developing countries in which they are recruiting. Thanks to Julie Ferguson for alerting me to this article, which was published in Human Resource Executive.
The article in full:
Guest Worker Woes
By Michael O’Brien
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, about 500 guest workers were brought in from India to work for Signal International, a Mississippi-based marine oil-rig company, as it worked to repair hurricane-ravaged oil rigs.
Those workers likely had no idea that they’d someday end up in the middle of separate investigations by three federal agencies — the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security — as well as a federal court case involving allegations of labor abuse and human trafficking.
But, they probably should have, say immigration-law experts.
H2-B visas are used for skilled laborers, as opposed to highly skilled or professional workers (for whom the H1-B visa is used), as well as for temporary and seasonal workers.
Erin C. Hangartner, an attorney for Signal International, declined to comment for this story, citing the pending lawsuit. But a recent New York Times story highlights some of the allegations against Signal, the recruiting firms that found and hired the Indian workers on Signal’s behalf, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Some of the workers began protesting shortly after they arrived from India when they discovered that promises of green cards and future work opportunities in America were not likely to materialize, according to the Times.
When the company asked ICE officials for “direction” on how best to deal with the most vociferous protestors, the company received the following response from an unnamed immigration-enforcement officer, according to the newspaper account:
“Don’t give them any advance notice. Take them all out of the line on the way to work; get their personal belongings; get them in a van, and get their tickets, and get them to the airport, and send them back to India.”

Continue reading H-2B Guest worker woes

H-1B work visas go begging

The law of supply and demand is leaving many temporary H-1B visas unused. According to the Wall Street Journal,
“Last year, even as the recession began to bite, employers snapped up the 65,000 visas available in just one day. This year, however, as of Sept. 25 — nearly six months after the U.S. government began accepting applications — only 46,700 petitions had been filed.”
The article summarizes the program thusly:
In 2008, 44% of approved H-1B visa petitions were for foreigners working as systems analysts or programmers. The second-largest category consisted of professionals working in universities. Indians account for about half of all H-1B visa holders.
While the number of visa holders is small compared with the U.S. work force, their contribution is huge, employers say. For example, last year 35% of Microsoft’s patent applications in the U.S. came from new inventions by visa and green-card holders, according to company general counsel Brad Smith.
The article in full:
A coveted visa program that feeds skilled workers to top-tier U.S. technology companies and universities is on track to leave thousands of spots unfilled for the first time since 2003, a sign of how the weak economy has eroded employment even among highly trained professionals.
The program, known as H-1B, has been a mainstay of Silicon Valley and Wall Street, where many companies have come to depend on securing visas for computer programmers from India or engineers from China. Last year, even as the recession began to bite, employers snapped up the 65,000 visas available in just one day. This year, however, as of Sept. 25 — nearly six months after the U.S. government began accepting applications — only 46,700 petitions had been filed.

Continue reading H-1B work visas go begging

The nursing shortage, now back in the news

Let’s review where we are with the nursing shortage in the U.S. and immigrant nurses, about which I have posted in the past. A recent Business Week article includes some passages I have inserted below, prefaced by comments by me. Then I cite from an earlier posting by me which includes an estimate that the supply of nurses from the Philippines, by far the largest source of foreign nurses, may be capping out.
The stimulus package included $100 million to enlarge the number of nursing school slots.
First, a new proposal to increase the number of work visas for foreign nurses (which idea Obama has criticized):
“In May, Representative Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) introduced a bill that would allow 20,000 additional nurses to enter the U.S. each year for the next three years as a temporary measure to fill the gap. If the bill doesn’t pass on its own, lawmakers may include it in a comprehensive immigration reform package. Obama is slated to meet with congressional leaders on June 25 to discuss reforming U.S. immigration laws.”
And, nursing slots are increasingly being filled by foreigners, in particular from the Philippines:
“As openings have become more difficult to fill domestically, more foreign-born nurses have entered the workforce, most commonly through green cards that lead to permanent residency. In 1994, 9% of the total registered nurse workforce was composed of foreign-born RNs; by 2008 that percentage had risen to 16.3%, or about 400,000 RNs, according to Buerhaus’ research. Of those 400,000 nurses, about 10% had immigrated to the U.S. within the previous five years. About one-third of the increase in RNs from 2001 to 2008 was composed of foreign-born RNs.”
Also, nursing union leaders point to poor employment conditions to explain why one fifth of nurses in the U.S. don’t work as nurses. (I wonder about this: aren’t nurses well paid, especially in an economic environment in which households are concerned about income?)
“Understaffing, mandatory overtime, and physically demanding work, such as lifting and bathing patients, take their toll. And while pay has risen in some regions to attract more nurses, in recent years it has flattened at the national level. That’s why up to 500,000 registered nurses are choosing not to practice their profession—fully one-fifth of the current RN workforce of 2.5 million.”
And, there are no enough slots in nursing schools to meet the demand. (That assumes that the turned away students are qualified.)
“One point everyone seems to agree on is that the U.S. needs more capacity to train nurses. Since 2002, enrollments at nursing schools have increased so much that up to 50,000 qualified applicants are turned away each year from training programs. The main problem is a lack of teaching staff at these schools. Dan Stultz, president of the Texas Hospital Assn., which represents more than 500 Texas hospitals, helped form the Texas Nursing Workforce Shortage Coalition to push for funding from the state legislature to boost capacity at Texas nursing schools. Stultz says the state has about 22,000 nurse vacancies now, and that the number could rise to 70,000 by 2020. Meanwhile, for the last five years, 8,000 to 12,000 nursing-student applicants have been denied places at training programs for lack of space. ‘We have qualified people that get accepted and can’t attend,’ says Stultz. ‘We don’t need more immigration; we need to increase capacity and grow our own workforce.’ “
From a prior posting on the global nursing shortage:
The Philippines is the leading primary source country for nurses internationally by design and with the support of the government. The 2001–2004 Medium Term Philippines Development plan views overseas employment as a key source of economic growth.16 Filipino nurses are in great demand because they are primarily educated in college-degree programs and communicate well in English, and because governments have deemed the Philippines to be an ethical source of nurses. A motivator for the Philippines to produce nurses for export is remittance income sent home by nurses working in other countries. In 1993 Bruce Lindquist reported that Filipinos working abroad sent home more than $800 million in remittance income.17 No other country produces many more nurses than are needed in their own health care systems at a level of education that meets the requirements of developed countries.
However, the Philippines may be reaching a natural limit in its ability to provide enough nurses for escalating worldwide demand. An estimated 85 percent of employed Filipino nurses (more than 150,000) are working internationally. About one-fourth of the total number of nurses employed in Philippine hospitals (some 13,500) reportedly left for work elsewhere in 2001.18 There has been recent debate that the growing global demand for Filipino nurses is so great that emigration of nurses could be threatening the country’s health care quality.19 It is estimated there are more than 30,000 unfilled nursing positions in the Philippines.20 In 2001 the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Singapore, and United States were the most common destinations for Filipino nurses.21

Changes to H-2A farmworker visa program sought by Bush

The Bush Administration is attempting to make last minute changes to the H-2A agriculture temporary worker program, reportedly be relaxing employer requirements to validate that the employer has tried to hire Americans. The effect of the changes, according to activist groups, will be to lower wages for H-2A workers.
go here at the Farmworker Justice site to learn more.