Temporary staffing firm and low wage immigrants

ProPublica just published an article about a huge temporary staffing firm that has been cited for exploiting immigrant workers and cheating on its workers compensation premiums. The firm, Select, provides a “raitero” service.
The article says:
The word raitero is a Spanglish invention that roughly means “a person who gives rides.” In fact, the raiteros are effectively agents for Select Remedy and other temp agencies, which have grown steadily since the 1990s and are approaching new heights after the recent recession. While not a household name, the Select Family of Staffing Companies, which controls Select Remedy, posted $1.8 billion in revenue last year and employs nearly 100,000 people every week — about as many as Starbucks.
Select was started in 1985. Beginning in the mid-2000s, it bought more than three dozen staffing firms, becoming a national chain. Its revenues skyrocketed from a little more than $300 million in 2002 to $1.8 billion in 2011, according to company press releases. In 2012, Staffing Industry Analysts, a research firm, ranked Select the 10th largest temp agency in America and the fourth largest in the industrial sector.
Go to the article for more details.

IT workers and H-1B visas: necessary or a scam?

A New York Times article today reports on the demand for temporary professional workers from abroad, which is mostly run through the H-1B visa program. Silicon Valley is pressuring Washington to greatly expand the program.
Do these temporary hires suppress the job market prospects for U.S. professionals. And, are temporary visas for professionals, especially in information technology, mainly a way to cycle back to home countries practical expertise in American work styles, thus enabling more overseas outsourcing?
A 2011 GAO report is the source of much that follows:

How many awarded per year:

A statutory cap of 65,000, with exemptions that cause the number to swell well above that.
While the H-1B visa is not considered a permanent visa, H-1B workers can apply for extensions and pursue permanent residence in the United States. Initial petitions are those filed for a foreign national’s first-time employment as an H-1B worker and are valid for a period of up to 3 years. Generally, initial petitions are counted against the annual cap. Extensions—technically referred to as continuing employment petitions—may be filed to extend the initial petitions for up to an additional 3 years
Over the last decade, the top four countries of birth for approved H-1B workers were India, China, Canada, and the Philippines. Across all 10 years, about 64 percent of approved H-1B workers were born in these four countries, with the largest group from India
Employer not required to test U.S. worker supply:
Unlike some other temporary visa programs, the H-1B program does not require employers to provide evidence that they have first “tested” the U.S. labor market by trying to hire a U.S. worker.

Most new H-1B visas are awarded to foreigners already studying in the U.S.:

From fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2009, the proportion of newly approved H-1B workers that were already living in the United States increased from 43 to 62 percent. Many of these workers are likely to have been on student or another visa status. In 2000, 40 percent of approved H-1B workers (initial and extensions) possessed an advanced degree (master’s, professional, or Ph.D.), which increased to 59 percent by fiscal year 2009 (see fig. 11). One reason for this increase may be the H-1B Visa Reform Act of 2004, which allowed for an additional 20,000 approvals each year for foreign workers holding a master’s degree or higher from an American institute of higher education.

Continue reading IT workers and H-1B visas: necessary or a scam?

Immigrant workers unaware of workers compensation

A recent report out of New Hampshire of immigrant workers reveals a shockingly high level of ignorance about worker compensation benefits and their rights to them.
The key findings include:
366 immigrants completed surveys, and 299 (63%) reported working in the U.S. now or at some point in their lives.
• 229 were surveyed about their experience working in New Hampshire.
• The most common reported job/industry categories were factory, cleaning, food service, farming, service, construction and retail.
• 62% of all respondents were not aware of workers’ compensation
29 respondents, or about 10% of those who have worked in the U.S., noted they had been injured at work. Common body parts affected included hands, fingers, wrists, backs, knees, feet, elbows, and abdominal regions.
The “Occupational Health Surveillance Immigrant Survey Report” of February 2013 was prepared by the Occupational Health Surveillance Program of the Division of Public Health Services, New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), in partnership with the New Hampshire Coalition for
Occupational Safety and Health (NH COSH) and the DHHS Office of Minority Health & Refugee Affairs.
This recent study follows a 2006 study. In 2006, NH COSH interviewed 25 immigrant workers who had been injured within the past 3
years. Among this group, there was an overarching issue that workers lacked
information about workers’ compensation and that this hurt them when they tried to obtain benefits. Fifteen of the 25 workers interviewed reported that at the time of their injury they did not know that all of their medical bills were supposed to be paid by workers’ compensation. Six of the 25 people interviewed reported problems
actually getting workers’ compensation to pay medical expenses. At least one additional worker did not try to get medical benefits because he was unaware of the
system. Of the six who had problems, two workers reported that health insurance paid their bills, one worker paid from personal funds, two obtained care through a
community health clinic, and one said the bills were never paid. Four of these workers reported going without treatment at some point due to inability to pay.
The 2013 survey reported included information on the nationality (44% Asian) of the respondents and their education level:
28% of respondents completed some college level training before coming to the U.S.
32% of respondents completed some high school level education.
19% of respondents completed 8 years or less.
12% of respondents received no education.

Reforms to Legal immigration of low skilled workers

The Migration Policy Institute just published an Issue Brief on legal immigration of low skilled workers.
The authors say that severe limitations on legal immigration, temporary or permanent, of these workers has been in part the cause of illegal immigration.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO have agreed in principle on reforms to temporary low skilled labor immigration including freedom to move among employers and an opportunity to apply for permanent visas. The proposed W visa will allow for a broader range of employment.
H-2A visas for agricultural workers, which run for one year and are extendable to three years, are limited in number. H-2B visas, for non-farm work, are limited to 66,000 a year. Only 5,000 EB-3 permanent visas are available.
The debate over expanding and revising legal immigration for low skilled workers is paralyzed by these following issues:
• Wage levels and employment conditions. How to determine “prevailing wages.” The MPI says there is no obvious way to reconcile or come to an consensus about methodology. Also, there is differences in positions about assuming transportation and housing costs.
• Level of effort employers must show to recruit U.S.workers
• Whether U.S. workers to work alongside temporary visa workers should be entitled to transportation and housing subsidies.
• Which federal agency should oversee these temporary workers: the Department of Labor or Homeland Security
• How to determine the appropriate number of visas. Caps, when reached, make it difficult for employers to plan. The MPI has for years recommended the creation of an independent body to set and periodically adjust the cap for visas, to overcome federal inertia.
• Freedom of temporary workers to seek employment other than with the original employer. This proposed policy is intended to deter labor standard violations by employers
• Incentives to employers who play by the rules.
• Legal remedies for temporary workers
• Better monitoring, by adding dedicated resources
• Regulating immigration intermediaries.
Issues in designing a new temporary W visa include the following:
• Creating a more nuanced range of employment, that might include some skilled labor such as in construction
• Providing a path to permanent residency. The design of this path is somewhat caught up in the issue of who will be admitted. The higher the skill level, the greater prospect policy makers believe the worker will successfully integrate with American society. Integration with American society is seen as a very desirable attribute of permanent residency.
Candidacy for permanent residency can include learning English, having a good work record, and evidence of skill development.

Reforming temporary worker programs

A coalition of worker advocates issued a report this month, The American Dream Up for Sale, an indictment of abuses in temporary worker programs in the United States. Go here for an announcement of the report.
The collation include the International Labor Recruitment Working Group (ILRWG), a diverse coalition that includes the AFL-CIO, AFT, the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante Inc. (CDM), Farmworker Justice, Global Workers Justice Alliance, National Guestworker Alliance, Southern Poverty Law Center and other international and national organizations.
The New York Times ran an editorial about these abuses today.

The transformation of Mexican farm labor supply to the U.s.

Only 2% of California’s farm labor is U.S.- born. Foreign workers, mainly Mexicans, are essential for California’s production of labor intensive agriculture. (For a list of the major “FVH” farm products, such as avocados, grapes and lettuce, go here.)
Two very recent studies from US Davis and US Sacramento examine the impact of shorter supplies of low wage farm workers from Mexico.
A new study from the University of California at Davis reports on shifts in agriculture in Mexico that may be affecting the supply of Mexican farm workers in the United States.
Mexican food distribution is increasing through large retailers, such as Walmart. These large merchandisers have “strict quality, quantity and timing standards” that small family farms cannot easily meet. This is leading to more industrial farm production.
Supermarkets think cross-border, not locally. Thus Californian food will be sold in Mexican stores in one season, and Mexican food in Californian stores in another season.
The net effect of these and other changes is to tighten the supply of Mexican low wage farm labor to work in either Mexico or the U.S. (Mexico now imports farm labor from Guatemala.)
MPI reports that farm labor costs in the U.S. are rising. When the farm unions rose in California (think Cesar Chaves) in the 1960s, farm worker wages rose by 40%. If farm wages increase significantly, the MPI predicts more mechanization (which is already picking a lot of wine grapes) and shift towards importing farm produce that cannot be easily mechanize.
A study from the University of California in Sacramento (“The End of Farm Labor Abundance”) says that “New data from the Mexico National Rural Household Survey reveal that the same shift out of farm work that characterized U.S. farm labor history is well underway in Mexico. Meanwhile, the demand for farm and non-farm workers in Mexico is rising, and a combination of recession and border enforcement has discouraged new Mexico-to-U.S. migration. The decline in foreign farm labor supply to the United States has far-reaching implications for farm production, immigration policy, and rural poverty in California and other labor-intensive agricultural regions.”
The UC Davis study (see the powerpoint here) says that farm productivity in Mexico has risen by 300% since 2003, leading to a 25% decline in the workforce along more production.
The report quotes Passel of The Pew Hispanic Center: “The supply of Mexican labor available to work in the United States has fallen due to a sharp decrease in Mexico’s total fertility rate and employment growth in Mexico.”
What happens when mechanization comes into California farms? Fewer low skilled workers, more high skilled workers, and hard from low skilled workers to transition up.

Nine principles of immigration reform

On November 29, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus issued a list of principles of immigration reform. Here they are:
1. Normalize status of illegal immigrants: Require the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to register with the federal government, submit to fingerprinting and a criminal background check, learn English and American civics, and pay taxes to contribute fully and legally to our economy and earn a path to permanent residency and eventual citizenship.
2. Unite families: Protect the unity and sanctity of the family, including the families of bi-national, same-sex couples, by reducing the family backlogs and keeping spouses, parents, and children together.
3. STEM program: Attract the best and the brightest investors, innovators, and skilled professionals, including those in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) studies, to help strengthen our economy, create jobs, nnd build a brighter future for all Americans.
4. DREAM Act: Build on the extraordinary success of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and incorporates DREAMers, those who were brought to the U.S. at a young age and are Americans but for a piece of paper—into the mainstream of life in the United States through a path to citizenship so that America benefits from their scholastic achievements, military service and pursuit of their dreams.
5. Ag industry: Include a balanced, workable solution for the agriculture industry that ensures agricultural workers have a route to citizenship and employers have the workers and American agriculture continues to lead in our global economy.
6. Labor protections for immigrant workers: End the exploitation of U.S. and immigrant workers by providing sufficient, safe, and legal avenues for foreign workers to fill legitimate gaps in our workforce, with full labor rights, protection from discrimination, and a reasonable path to permanency that lifts up wages and working conditions for both native and foreign-born workers and their families.

7. Border protection:
Ensure smart and reasonable enforcement that protects our borders and fosters commerce by targeting serious criminals and real threats at our northern and southern borders and promotes the safe and legitimate movement of people and goods at our ports of entry and which are essential to our economy.
8. Verification: Establish a workable employment verification system that prevents unlawful employment and rewards employers and employees who play by the rules, while protecting Americans’ right to work and their privacy.
9. Access to Citizenship: Renew our commitment to citizenship, to ensure all workers pay their fair share of taxes, fully integrate into our way of life and bear the same responsibilities as all Americans and reaffirms our shared belief that the Citizenship Clause of the Constitution is a fundamental freedom that must be preserved.

Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero—and Perhaps Less

According to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center, “The largest wave of immigration in history from a single country to the United States has come to a standstill. After four decades that brought 12 million current immigrants—more than half of whom came illegally—the net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped—and may have reversed, according to a new analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center of multiple government data sets from both countries.”
This is the conclusion from a study issued today, and summarized in a press release as follows:
The standstill appears to be the result of many factors, including the weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and changing economic conditions in Mexico.
The report is based on the Center’s analysis of data from five different Mexican government sources and four U.S. government sources. The Mexican data come from the Mexican Decennial Censuses (Censos de Población y Vivienda), the Mexican Population Counts (Conteos de Población y Vivienda), the National Survey of Demographic Dynamics (Encuesta Nacional de la Dinámica Demográfica or ENADID), the National Survey of Occupation and Employment (Encuesta Nacional de Ocupación y Empleo or ENOE), and the Survey on Migration at the Northern Border of Mexico (Encuesta sobre Migración en la Frontera Norte de México or EMIF-Norte). The U.S. data come from the 2010 Census, the American Community Survey, the Current Population Survey and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Among the report’s key findings:
In the five-year period from 2005 to 2010, about 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States and about 1.4 million Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born children moved from the United States to Mexico.
In the five-year period a decade earlier (1995 to 2000), about 3 million Mexicans had immigrated to the U.S. and fewer than 700,000 Mexicans and their U.S. born-children had moved from the U.S. to Mexico.
This sharp downward trend in net migration has led to the first significant decrease in at least two decades in the number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants living in the U.S.—to 6.1 million in 2011, down from a peak of nearly 7 million in 2007. Over the same period the number of authorized Mexican immigrants rose modestly, from 5.6 million in 2007 to 5.8 million in 2011.
Mexicans now comprise about 58% of the unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. They also account for 30% of all U.S. immigrants. The next largest country of origin for U.S. immigrants, China, accounts for just 5% of the nation’s stock of nearly 40 million immigrants.
Apprehensions of Mexicans trying to cross the border illegally have plummeted by more than 70% in recent years, from more than 1 million in 2005 to 286,000 in 2011—a likely indication that fewer unauthorized immigrants are trying to cross. This decline has occurred at a time when funding in the U.S. for border enforcement—including more agents and more fencing—has risen sharply.
As apprehensions at the border have declined, deportations of unauthorized Mexican immigrants—some of them picked up at work or after being arrested for other criminal violations—have risen to record levels. In 2010, nearly 400,000 unauthorized immigrants—73% of them Mexicans—were deported by U.S. authorities.
Although most unauthorized Mexican immigrants sent home by U.S. authorities say they plan to try to return, a growing share say they will not try to come back to the U.S. According to a survey by Mexican authorities of repatriated immigrants, 20% of labor migrants in 2010 said they would not return, compared with just 7% in 2005.
Looking back over the entire span of U.S. history, no country has ever sent as many immigrants to this country as Mexico has in the past four decades. However, when measured not in absolute numbers but as a share of the immigrant population at the time, immigration waves from Germany and Ireland in the late 19th century equaled or exceeded the modern wave from Mexico.

Immigrant workers in four key sectors: brilliant analysis

The Migration Policy Institute has released an excellent study of immigrant worker participation in four major economic sectors: “Still an Hourglass? Immigrant workers in middle-skilled jobs”. The premise of the study is that during the last decade, the number of immigrants holding middle skill jumps jumped by 50%, and that the hourglass concept (the immigrant sector divided between high skilled, such as systems engineers and physicians, and low skilled) is not longer as true as it was in the late 20th Century. I am not sure how well this study proves the premise. But is contains intriguing insights into the role of immigrants in four sectors, which I will summarize.
The study considers a worker’s income of $30,000 to be a “family sustaining wage”. That amount is 60% of the median national household income of $50,000. the argument for using the $30,000 figure is buttressed by study by others of income levels and costs of living in Los Angeles.
Between 1990 and 2006, for the econo0my as a whole, immigrant workers increased by 118%, while native workers increased by 15%. The rate of job increases by sector, immigrant vs. native worker, as for health care 132% vs.40%; information technology 189% vs. 31%; construction 291% vs. 28%; and hospitality 134% vs 33%. Between 1990 and 2006, immigrant healthcare employment grew on average at 8% vs. 3% for native workers. BLS projects 25% job growth in healthcare between 2008 and 2018.
The percentage of immigrant vs. native workers with living wages were, for the economy as a whole 46% vs. 59%; for high skilled jobs 84% vs. 83%; middle skilled jobs 60% vs 72%; and low skilled jobs, 28% vs. 36.
for each sector, the percentage of immigrant workers with family sustaining wages vs native workers was about the same except for construction (2006 figures), where 65% of native workers and 39% of immigrant workers had family sustaining wages. In the hospitality sector, both classes of workers had about 22% in family sustaining wages.
Healthcare: between 1990 and 2006, immigrant licensed practical nurses grew by 230% vs. 44% for native workers. The figures for dental assistants were 179% vs. 40%.
Information Technology: The share of immigrant IT workers to total IT workers rose from 12% in 1990 to 20% in 2006. Immigrants on the whole had better jobs.
Construction: Middle skilled job growth among immigrant workers was strong. Let’s see if that was the case after 2006. Immigrant employment in construction fell 23% between the 3rd qtr of 2007 and 2009.
Hospitality: A low skilled job sector. In 2006, 78% of immigrants and 73% of natives held low skill jobs. In 2006, only 14% of immigrants in low skilled jobs and 50% of those in middle skilled jobs earned family sustaining wages. — higher (!) than among native born workers (10% and 46% respectively).

Raid at House of Raeford plant nabs 330 workers

I have posted before on the work safety and workers compensation problems of this largely immigrant-staffed poultry processing plant chain. On October 7, ICE raided its plant in Greenville, SC, arresting 330 workers. I have pasted below the Associated Press article for today, 10/12, about the aftermath of the raid.
Groups help families of SC poultry raid workers
GREENVILLE, S.C. Greenville-area residents and groups are working to help the families of more than 300 suspected illegal immigrants arrested in a raid at a poultry processing plant last week.
The Greenville News reported Sunday that the Alliance for Collaboration with the Hispanic Community and local residents have met to identify lawyers, counselors, educators and interpreters to help the families. They also are trying to raise money and find people to care for the children of the jailed workers.
Some 330 workers were arrested in a raid at the Columbia Farms plant in Greenville County. In addition, the U.S. Labor Department said the plant is under federal investigation for possible child labor violations following the arrests of suspected illegal immigrants, including six juveniles.
The plant is owned by Raeford, N.C.-based House of Raeford. The company has said it’s cooperating with authorities.
House of Raeford processes chickens and turkeys in eight plants in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana and Michigan.
A regional coordinator for the Catholic Charities of the Piedmont Region, Gabriel Cuervo, said several churches also will help.