Nicole Gaouette, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2008
With restaurants and resorts facing summer staff shortages, the Bush administration will announce federal regulations today to streamline the way foreign workers enter the country for seasonal jobs.
The Department of Labor is rewriting rules to help employers find and hire workers for temporary jobs as landscapers, waitresses and crab pickers more quickly and efficiently than current guidelines allow.
In one major change affecting industries such as construction and shipyards, the definition of “temporary” will be drastically expanded—from the current 10 months to three years.
Adjusting the so-called H2B visa program is part of an ongoing administration effort to reconfigure immigration laws on a piecemeal basis in the absence of a comprehensive overhaul.
There are limits, however, to the administration’s ability to change the seasonal visa program, especially in one crucial area: the number of visas available.
Employers consider the 66,000 new visas offered every year to be woefully inadequate, and efforts to expand the H2B visa program have been stymied in Congress. So federal officials hope that by smoothing out the procedures, some of the difficulties businesses are having in filling jobs with foreign workers will be eased.
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said in an interview with The Times that the changes being announced today would cut down bureaucratic delays.
The new rules also are meant to protect American workers, she said. Foreign workers will have to reapply annually and labor markets will be tested yearly to ensure there are no able and available U.S. workers for the jobs, Chao explained.
“The administration is trying in the only way it can to respond to business pressure,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies. He argued that if employers paid high enough wages, Americans would take these jobs.
“Why do we even have such a program?” Krikorian asked. “Employers are never satisfied with how cheap labor is.”
The Department of Labor is proposing to speed the visa process by allowing employers to file applications directly to the federal government, cutting a current requirement that applications first go to a state workforce agency. Employers no longer will have to fill out paperwork showing that they have complied fully with program requirements. Instead they will be able to attest, under threat of penalties and fines, that they are complying.
Companies would be barred from passing on any program expenses to workers, including recruitment costs or attorney’s fees. Labor officials will begin an auditing program to make sure employers are following the rules; those who don’t face fines of as much as $10,000.