The H-2B program for unskilled non-agricultural migrant workers is one of the nation’s many alien worker programs, and one that, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report, is subject to extensive fraud and abuse.
The H-2B program is both smaller than the H-1B program, for high tech workers, and subject to considerably less attention. In terms of visa issuances, one measure of the size of these programs, there were 44,847 H-2B visas issued in FY 2009, compared to 110,367 H-1B visas. These numbers are from the annual Report of the Visa Office at the State Department.
Since the H-1B program displaces American workers with college degrees, and depresses wages where the high-tech workers are concentrated, it secures a lot more public attention that the H-2B program, which operates at the other end of the labor market, where employers hire landscapers, forest workers, waiters, and other less-skilled workers.
GAO’s report on the troubles with the program are based on a solid foundation; the agency’s auditors found ten closed criminal and civil cases in which courts had decided that employers had misused the program and abused their alien workers. The highlights of these cases, as quoted in the report, are as follows:
Hotel owners forced H-2B workers to work in substandard conditions, confiscated workers’ passports, and threatened workers that they would be sent home in a ‘box’ if they disobeyed orders . . .
Workers from India paid at least $20,000 for H-2B visas to enter the U.S. but were never employed by the construction company . . .
Conspirators fraudulently obtained H-2B certifications from Labor for over 3,800 individuals, leased workers to undisclosed businesses not listed on the visa petitions, [and] defrauded the government of $7.4 million in payroll taxes . . .
The nation would do just fine without any H-2B program at all; the only “cost” would be that some marginal employers would have to increase their wages a bit to attract workers to their jobs.