Paper cautions against increasing the number of H-2B temporary work visas until domestic unemployment rates are reduced and abuses in the program are eliminated

Daniel Costa

While some business executives cite labor shortages to justify their push for the Biden administration to double the H2-B temporary work visa quota, the author of this article cites data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources to refute that claim. In his article “Claims of labor shortages in H-2B industries don’t hold up to scrutiny,” published by the Economic Policy Institute, Daniel Costa argues that the 2021 economy shows no evidence of labor shortages in the jobs usually filled by H2-B visa holders; in fact, domestic unemployment in these sectors remains high with nearly five million people out of work in the top six H2-B occupations, and 1.7 million more people in the top 10 industries looking for work than a year earlier. The author sees other motivations behind efforts to expand the H2-B visa system, such as an opportunity to underpay and exploit temporary migrant workers. Regulation of the system is not adequate to prevent this abuse or to incentivize recruitment of domestic workers. Other labor abuses by employers have included debt bondage, controlling the worker’s documents, and leveraging the employer-sponsored visa status to hush workers in cases of underpayment or unsafe conditions. The author argues that increasing numbers will both expand the scale of labor abuse and entrench domestic unemployment in some of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. The author argues that the Biden administration should refuse to expand the number of H2-B visas available until the program is reformed and focus instead on improving recruitment among the unemployed in-country and ensuring migrant workers be treated and paid fairly and have a path to citizenship. (Katelin Reger for The Immigrant Learning Center’s Public Education Institute)


Claims of Labor Shortages in H-2B Industries Don’t Hold Up to Scrutiny,
Economic Policy Institute, March 7, 2021, 11 pp.
Author: Daniel Costa