The H-2B guestworker program puts downward pressure on American wages

This past January, the Department of Labor (DOL) published a final rule establishing a new wage methodology for determining the appropriate wages to be paid to guestworkers in the “H-2B” program—a temporary immigrant guestworker category intended to help employers fill labor shortages. Among other things, U.S. law and regulation require that H-2B workers only be authorized to enter and work in the United States if the H-2B worker’s employment will not be “adversely affecting the wages” of United States workers. The DOL’s new rule will require that H-2B workers receive the average wage paid to all workers in the same occupation and geographical region in order to prevent downward pressure on the wages of U.S. workers. But for now, the rule’s implementation has been delayed—and a lobbying firestorm by businesses and members of Congress, led by Senator Barbara Mikulski from Maryland—has put its survival in doubt.

The chart below shows the difference between the hourly rate that H-2B crab pickers and landscape workers are currently paid in Maryland under the old (and still current) rule, and the statewide average for all workers in the given occupation, which is what workers should be paid in order to prevent wages from being depressed for U.S. workers. H-2B crab pickers and landscapers are underpaid by $4.82 and $3.35 per hour, respectively.

Click figure to enlarge

These data suggest that employers have been using the H-2B program as a way to degrade the wages of U.S. workers. H-2B crab pickers in Maryland (i.e., workers who literally pick the meat out of a crab, like this), who fall under the occupational category of “Meat, Poultry, and Fish Cutters and Trimmers” above, are paid the federal minimum wage ($7.25), when the state-wide average is $12.07 per hour.

Another way to look at this is that a crab picker earning the state average will earn $25,105 over the course of a year, which is above the poverty line for a family of four ($22,113). But current H-2B crab pickers only earn $15,080 a year—which is about $7,000 below the poverty line. For landscapers in Maryland, the results are similar—in both cases the increase in hourly wage will literally lift the H-2B worker out of poverty.

You can read more about the H-2B program and the Labor Department’s wage rule in my new extended commentary, H-2B employers and their congressional allies are fighting hard to keep wages low for immigrant and American workers.


  • PATRICKAZINGER

    YOUR WAGE NUMBERS ARE LIKE COMPARING APPLES TO ORANGES. . THE WAGE DETERMINATIONS FOR PREVAILING WAGES IS JUST WHAT IT SAYS. . THE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR ISSUES THE PREVAILING WAGE FOR THE SPECIFIC JOB IN THE COUNTY WHERE THE JOB IS TO BE PERFORMED. AND THAT IS THE WAGE ISSUED. . SHIPMENTS OF CRABS ARE COMING FROM OUTSIDE THE USA BECAUSE THERE ARE NO AMERICANS INTERESTED IN THE SEASONAL JOB OF CRAB PICKING. WHAT ARE THE BUSINESSES SUPPOSE TO DO JUST SHUT DOWN. . O SURE EASY TO SAY PAY MORE PER HOUR. . ARE YOU THE CONSUMMER WILLING TO PAY MORE FOR CRAB AT THE STORE OR LOCAL RESTAURANT. THEY ARE PAID AT LEAST THE FEDERAL MINIMUM WAGE. WHY HAVE A FEDERAL MINIMUM WAGE IF EMPLOYERS TRYING TO HIRE LEGALLY ARE GOING TO BE FORCED TO PAY 30 TO 59 % HIGHER WAGES THEN THE MINIMUM WAGE IN THE USA. BOTTOM LINE US CITIZENS DO NOT WANT THOSE JOBS, H-2B’S DO THEY CAN MAKE MORE IN A DAY THEN THEY CAN IN A MONTH IF THEY ARE HOME. US BUSINESSES CAN REMAIN OPEN IF THEY HAVE STAFF.

  • Peter

    Let me tell you, we have tens of thousands H-2B workers from India taking over the IS industry.  They layoff Americans and bring in consultants from India at lower wages.  Not min. wages but lower wages for IS jobs.  And there are tens of thousands of laid off AMerican IS workers that use to perform the these jobs.  So beware, crab pickers and landscape workers are not the only jobs being loat to H-2B workers.