Bill on Transparency in Foreign Worker Programs Introduced in House

It is a small step in the right direction; it will not go far immediately (if ever), but a highly commendable effort is being made in the House of Representatives to shed some light on our murky nonimmigrant worker programs.

Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) has introduced H.R. 5197, the “Transparency in Reporting to Protect American Workers and Prevent Human Trafficking Act”.

The objective: Force employers and the government to report in some detail how many nonimmigrant workers there are in such categories as H-1B, J-1, Q-1, and the like; how much they are paid; whom they work for; and what job categories they fill. It also requires, and this would be a first, that data be collected by gender.

That last provision will probably show, if enacted, employers’ strong preference for men, notably in the H-1B, H-2A, and H-2B programs, all managed by, among others, the U.S. Labor Department. Gender discrimination is outlawed in most of the labor market, but not in the nonimmigrant worker programs, or at least not effectively.

The bill would also require the government to release data on employers with more than 50 percent of their workforces in these temporary foreign worker programs — an excellent idea. Job sites where foreign workers are concentrated are more likely to be exploitative than others.

The bill is co-sponsored by two other fairly junior Democratic members of the House: Ted Deutch of Florida and Jim Himes of Connecticut. A briefing was scheduled for 2 p.m. today (Monday, October 6) by three supporting organizations: the Economic Policy Institute, the Global Workers Alliance, and the Alliance against Slavery and Trafficking.

These are not restrictionist organizations — their focus is on the rights of the alien workers.

However, the impact of the bill, were it to be enacted, would be to make temporary foreign workers less attractive to employers. This would be the case because the bill would require more paperwork from the employers and, more significantly, this paperwork could be used to expose the exploitative nature of many of these operations and perhaps force some increases in wages.

Anything that causes employers to shun, or even think twice about, temporary foreign workers is a good thing for the nation’s overall immigration policy.

The bill is a short one and is unlikely to become a free-standing law. A more likely positive fate would be inclusion in some broader piece of legislation. I am not quite sure how these reporting requirements — important as they are — would have anything to do with trafficking, but maybe that reference in the title is a harmless bit of window dressing.

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