Radio Silence From Massachusetts Congressional Delegation On Continued Flow Of Low-Skill Nonimmigrant Workers Into America

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Unemployment is high for American workers, but the Massachusetts Congressional delegation won’t touch one key issue related to it:  foreign visas.

The unemployment rate in Massachusetts exceeded 15 percent in April. Business shutdowns and lost revenue in response to the coronavirus pandemic may result in fewer jobs than usual being available this summer. This comes at a time when high school and college-age Americans have more time to work and recent graduates of high school and college are seeking work.

With their constituents struggling economically and job prospects looking more limited than usual, all 11 Massachusetts members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have had nothing to say recently when it comes to temporary nonimmigrant visa programs like the low-skill nonagricultural H-2B visa, and the J-1 summer work travel program, among others.

President Donald Trump reportedly plans to issue an executive order seriously limiting work visas for foreigners. But well before news of the president’s intentions surfaced today, spokesmen for the Massachusetts members of Congress were not eager to answer such questions.

Over the course of three weeks, New Boston Post emailed the press offices for all 11 once a week in hopes of getting a comment clarifying their positions on these visa programs given the new situation in the country.

Visas are typically used to fill labor shortages. However, in June 2020, there is no labor shortage in the United States.

The only office to offer a response was that of U.S. Representative Lori Trahan (D-Westford), of Massachusetts’s Third Congressional District.

The response? An email message from her communications director Francis Grubar saying:  “We’re going to decline comment on this.”

The other offices did not respond. That includes: U.S. Representatives Richard Neal of the first district,  Jim McGovern of the second district, Joseph P. Kennedy III of the fourth district, Katherine Clark of the fifth district, Seth Moulton of the sixth district, Ayanna Pressley of the seventh district, Stephen Lynch of the eighth district, and Bill Keating of the ninth district.

It also includes U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Senator Ed Markey.

Previously, Kennedy, Keating, and Moulton have argued in favor of expanding the H-2B visa program. The program is typically capped at 66,000 visas per year, but Keating was unhappy in March when President Donald Trump’s administration expanded the program to 101,000 visas — because Keating did not think it was enough. Common fields for these workers include landscaping, housekeeping, and restaurant jobs. According to the Center For Immigration Studies, an immigration-restrictionist think tank, Massachusetts used 4,480 H-2B workers in 2016.

Additionally, the J-1 summer work travel program had 6,588 participants in Massachusetts in 2018 — the majority of which work on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. J-1 is defined as a cultural exchange program; people on J-1 summer work travel program visas tend to work in resorts and hotels, bars and restaurants, and even at Stop & Shop on Cape Cod.

The U.S. State Department clarified that the program has not been suspended despite a prior announcement relating to ECA (Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs) visas. Only ECA-funded programs got suspended, so while the ECA manages the J-1 summer work travel program, it did not qualify because its funding comes from fees. 

Previously, both the immigration-restrictionist Federation for American Immigration Reform and Center for Immigration Studies told New Boston Post that there is no place for these low-skill nonimmigrant visa programs in the country right now.

“At present, our nation’s interest in introducing foreign nationals to American culture through the J-1 program should be entirely subordinate to the overriding goal of protecting American’s from COVID-19,” Matt O’Brien, the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s director of research, told New Boston Post in an email message. “We do not need to import foreign seasonal workers because there are currently millions of Americans who are out of work and could be hired to fill seasonal positions.”

Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, argued that America doesn’t need jobs filled by temporary workers from other countries during the coronavirus emergency.

“How many lifeguards and bartenders and housekeepers will really be needed?” However many that is, the jobs should go to American workers first. Every year they put out the narrative that the Cape will shut down without these visa workers; that sounds especially insincere now, but it hasn’t stopped them from lobbying for the visas.”