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With laid-off workers by his side at campaign rallies, Donald Trump pledged to preserve “U.S. jobs for U.S. workers.” True to that promise, since assuming office, President Trump has issued an executive order and a series of policy statements, accompanied by executive-branch actions, intended to crack down on real and perceived abuses in temporary foreign worker programs.
However, in a parallel reality, employers across occupations are increasingly relying on all available temporary worker channels to respond to labor shortages. Demand for H-2A, H-2B, and H-1B visas has grown as the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 4.3 percent in May, the lowest level recorded in 16 years. A month earlier, job openings were at their highest level since 2000, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.
These three key temporary worker programs support a range of industries, from the seasonal agricultural and nonagricultural industries to high-skilled tech jobs:
- The Agricultural Sector: H-2A Visas
- The High-Skilled Occupations: H-1B Visas
- Efforts to Regulate Temporary Worker Programs
The actions taken by the Trump administration to date are mostly symbolic, with the exception of retaining the current cap on H-2B visas. In the absence of Congress or the administration increasing the numbers of workers admitted in H-2B and H-1B categories, employers and workers have options to consider. Both employers and workers may consider moving to Canada, which on June 12 opened up the Global Talent Stream, a new avenue for employers to sponsor temporary, high-skilled foreign workers—with a promised application processing time of just two weeks. This new stream is not a reaction to the Trump administration, but possibly an attractive option for those who find it difficult to contend with the new U.S. policies.
Finally, the tightening U.S. labor market, coupled with employers’ growing reliance on temporary foreign workers, presents a dilemma for the President: How does his administration beef up enforcement against unauthorized immigrants and crack down on temporary foreign workers while being seen as pro-growth and pro-business at the same time?