As many businesses are starting to reopen in the United States, they are in dire need of workers. Seasonal businesses that have always been reliant on foreign workers are having difficulties in finding people to hire. Although the domestic rate of unemployment is high, Americans want other types of jobs.
It is a pity because businesses in the hospitality industry, including hotels, restaurants, and resorts, cannot take advantage of the number of customers who are ready to enjoy their services. Instead, they have to limit the number of hours they are open and the number of guests they can serve. The staff they currently have are also already overworked.
In April, the government allowed 16,000 more H-2B visas for returning foreign workers, those who have already been working in the U.S. seasonally before. Just more than a week after the visas were available, though, Homeland Security stated that the quota was already met. The Chamber of Commerce stated that 16,000 foreign workers are not enough to meet businesses’ needs.
The Ongoing Debate
Those who oppose the entry of foreign workers in the country believe that they will be taking away much-needed jobs from Americans especially at a time when the rate of unemployment is high. They state that adding to the pool of available workers will push down wages and worsen the working conditions for both Americans and foreign workers. Businesses, including the National Retail Federation, state, however, that there are enough job openings to absorb both the currently unemployed Americans and the needed foreign workers.
Foreign Workers Already in the U.S.
There are thousands of foreigners who have already been residing and working in the U.S. for years but are undocumented. They can face deportation at any time. There is a provision in federal law, however, that can enable the cancellation of deportation if the person has resided in the country for 10 years or more. An individual must consult an experienced deportation lawyer to handle the case.
One of the other means by which some of these foreigners have been in the country is through the Temporary Protected Status or TPS. This program allows temporary shelter and work in the U.S. for individuals from countries where residents are unsafe due to war or other conditions. Currently, among these countries are Myanmar, El Salvador, Haiti, Nepal, Honduras, Nicaragua, South Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and Venezuela. The U.S. government can, however, change the designation of a country at any time based on its analysis of the country’s status. If the country is removed from the TPS list, its citizens who are in the U.S. will be deported back home.
Most or 90 percent of those in the U.S. under TPS have been living in the country for 19 years on the average, with about 273,000 children born here as U.S. citizens and not knowing any other life. More than 80 percent of adults under TPS are working productively and their contributions to the economy in the next decade amount to $164 billion.
Glimmers of Hope
The Biden Administration’s U.S. Citizenship Act, a bill still awaiting passage, provides ways for undocumented foreigners in the U.S. to gain legal status. It creates a new legal status called a lawful prospective immigrant. Foreigners living in the U.S. since January 1, 2021 can apply and must pass background screening. After five years as a lawful prospective immigrant, the person can apply for permanent residency.
Direct application to permanent residency will be available for those under TPS; those on deferred deportation since January 1, 2017; those who were minors when they arrived in the U.S.; and those who worked in agriculture for five years before their application.
Even with the number of visas the Biden government has allowed for processing, there is still a problem that hinders foreign workers from immediately filling the needs of U.S. businesses. The backlog in visa applications faced by the State Department is almost 2.6 million. Among those, about half a million are already qualified based on documents and only awaiting interviews. These have piled up during the administration of President Trump, with some visa backlogs reaching up to 50 to 100 times more than before his term. This was because he stopped the processing of certain visas.
Other problems are related to the pandemic. Many American consulates around the world had to close or operate with skeleton staff due to Covid-19. They have, therefore, not been able to provide full services related to visa applications or processing. Restrictions on travel between countries have also stopped people from coming to the U.S. Various countries have different regulations.
Furthermore, there are countries like Canada that offer easier ways for foreign workers to work there. These countries attract workers that find it difficult to apply to work in the U.S., diminishing the available pool of workers.
The Chamber of Commerce is petitioning the government and Congress to increase the quota of employment visas across all types of jobs and to make significant changes to immigration. All these are necessary steps for the economic recovery of the country.