Make All Jobs Ones That Americans Will Do
Cap H-2A and H-2B temporary visa programs at current levels and phase them down to zero over the next ten years. Revise H-1B temporary visa program to award visas only to those jobs offering the highest wages and phase it down as part of any transition to a skills-based immigration system.
The United States operates a range of temporary visa or guest worker programs, justified by claims of labor shortages and the trope of “jobs Americans won’t do.” The H-2A and H-2B programs, for temporary agricultural and other seasonal work, respectively, provide employers with an alternative to offering jobs to Americans at competitive wages in good conditions. The H-2A program has no legislative cap and the number of H-2A visas issued annually has expanded from fewer than 50,000 in 2005 to more than 250,000 in 2021. The H-1B program, meanwhile, is intended to bring high-skilled workers to America to fill jobs that not enough Americans can do. But in practice, roughly 40% of the nearly 100,000 H-1B visas issued each year are for employment at just 30 companies, more than half of which are top outsourcing providers like Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services, and Cognizant. Most of the visas go to entry-level and junior workers.
The effect of these programs is to hold wages and prices below levels where the market would otherwise settle, benefiting consumers and employers at the expense of American workers. Higher-income households that enjoy the lower prices without seeing their own labor undercut benefit disproportionately. The United States should cap the H-2A program at its current level and then phase both it and the H-2B caps down to zero over the next decade. Rather than assign H-1B visas via lottery, the federal government should award them based on wage level, with all visas going to those positions for which employers are offering the market’s highest wages. Extraordinary wages, not employer pleadings, are the real evidence of an inability to fill a role, and the situation where policymakers might serve the common good by providing assistance.