Oregon Wants Labor Department to Toughen Up on H-2B Visa Fraud

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

December 5, 2011

Here’s a good news update on my blog last week. I wrote about the outrageous Department of Labor report that $7 million in federal stimulus money from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was paid to 254 foreign-born workers via Oregon forestry placement agencies. The workers were brought into Oregon on H-2B visas; 146 Americans were contacted but only 36 hired. Notably, the foreign workers earned $8.41 an hour, only a penny more than Oregon’s minimum wage and substantially below the historic pay scale for skilled, dangerous logging work.

In 2009, Oregon unemployment statewide was above 11 percent; in rural Oregon where most of the cutting takes place it was 15 percent.

The DOL’s report sparked bipartisan criticism.

One of the critics, Republican Oregon state Sen. Jeff Merkley, offered his sensible solution to prevent companies from hiring foreign nationals when unemployed Oregon loggers want the job. Democratic U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio supports Merkley.

In his letter to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Merkley said state employment departments should have more authority to police employers who claim they can't find capable U.S. workers. This is the major flaw in the fraud- ridden H-2B visa. All employers have to say, without offering any evidence, is that they “can’t find willing or qualified American works.” The H-2B visa operates on the honor system. Unfortunately too few employers can be trusted especially when an opportunity to hire cheap labor presents itself. Employers “self-attest” they can't find qualified U.S. workers.

As Merkley wrote to Solis:

“Millions of unemployed Americans are not well served by the H-2B program's current management structure ... changes should be made immediately.”

Predictably, Secretary Solis’ office replied that it did not see any indication that American workers had been overlooked and pledged, unconvincingly, to tighten the H-2B visa rules and to ensure that the jobs are advertized more widely throughout Oregon. Merkley insists that more can and should be done. Along with wider advertising, employers should be required to get approval from state employment departments for each foreign national they hire. State agencies know if Americans are available and where to find them.

In response to Merkley, the Labor Department pledged vaguely to “strengthen recruitment requirements.”  Merkley, however, said the changes planned by the department don't go far enough.

Oregon Employment Department spokesman Tom Fuller said the agency is willing to police the federal program.

Said Fuller:

“We would welcome the additional responsibility to help us in our mission to put more Oregonians back to work.”

As a measure of the extent of the injustice, Fuller said that between Jan. 1, 2009 and Nov. 1, 2011 Oregon employers have notified the state Employment Department that they couldn’t find U.S. workers for 1,011 jobs. [State Should Police Employers, Says Senator, by Don Jenkins, New-Review, December 2, 2011]

Let’s see. Oregon’s state and federal legislators want greater outreach to American workers. The Oregon Employment Department wants more done to protect unemployed Americas. The Labor Department, however, says that no significant changes in the H-2B visa requirements are necessary.

The only conclusion to draw is from the Oregon case is more proof that the Obama administration favors foreign-born workers over unemployed Americans.

Merkley said that along with advertising jobs more widely, employers should be required to get approval from state employment departments for each foreign national they hire.

As Merkley wrote to Solis:

“Millions of unemployed Americans are not well served by the H-2B program's current management structure ... changes should be made immediately.”

Oregon Employment Department spokesman Tom Fuller said the agency is willing to police the federal program.

Said Fuller:

“We would welcome the additional responsibility to help us in our mission to put more Oregonians back to work.”

As a measure of the extent of the injustice, Fuller said that between Jan. 1, 2009 and Nov. 1, 2011 Oregon employers have notified the state Employment Department that they couldn’t find U.S. workers for 1,011 jobs. [State Should Police Employers, Says Senator, by Don Jenkins, New-Review, December 2, 2011]

Let’s see. Oregon’s state and federal legislators want greater outreach to American workers. The Oregon Employment Department wants more done to protect unemployed Americas. The Labor Department, however, says that no significant changes in the H-2B visa requirements are necessary.

The only conclusion to draw from the Oregon case represents more proof that the Obama administration favors foreign-born workers over unemployed Americans.

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