And Nothing Was “Slipped” into the Bill Either

The House recently passed a year-end spending bill that provided significant wins for conservatives, including increased funding for our military, an end to the oil export ban, a tightening of our visa waiver program to help stop terrorists from coming here, provisions to block the IRS from meddling in elections, a prohibition on an Obamacare insurance company bailout, and dozens of other riders related to regulatory overreach, protecting life, and blocking the importation of terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay. 

We didn’t get everything we wanted, but given the fact that we have divided government, these reforms—along with a significant pro-growth tax bill—are big wins. Some, however, are distorting one small provision in the bill related to temporary work visas. It’s making a mountain out of a molehill. So let’s explain. 

A Narrow Program

It’s all centered on H-2B visas, a narrow program for temporary, non-agricultural workers. The program does not allow for permanent immigration, nor does it give any legal status to those living here illegally. To use it, American employers must show that there are not enough U.S. workers available to do the specific, non-agricultural job that they are seeking to fill and that bringing someone here won’t adversely affect the wages of similarly employed Americans. These workers typically supplement the existing workforce during a seasonal surge in demand.

And there is an annual cap of 66,000 visas that can be awarded under the program.

Only 8,000 Workers – and Only Temporarily 

Periodically, however, demand from American employers exceeds that limit. That’s why the recently enacted spending bill made a temporary change—one that’s been made before—to allow a worker who was counted against the cap in the last three years to return in 2016 without being counted against the limit. Some have tried to extrapolate the numbers to suggest this will have a huge impact, but that’s just not the case. 

What does the change amount to in practice? 8,000 workers—for one year. 

Yes, based on history and economic modeling, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that this temporary reform means "only about 8,000 additional workers would be in the United States in 2016 as a result of enacting section 565."And then the provision expires. Hardly the surge in immigration some are suggesting. 

Passed through Committee—without Controversy—Back in July 

The second charge against this (small) reform is that it was somehow snuck into the bill at the last moment without any scrutiny. Here again, the facts tell a different story. In reality, this provision has been public since early July when it was introduced as part of the base appropriations bill funding the Department of Homeland Security (Sec 561). Shortly after introduction, the bill was moved through a markup of the full Appropriations Committee. It passed the full committee – with every Republican voting yes – on July 14th of this year.  

The same language at introduction, in committee, and through the House floor. Those are the facts.

While some may have reasonable objections to any changes in visa law, let’s keep this provision in perspective. It's a small change, it went through the regular committee process, and it should not overshadow the significant conservative wins that the House approved.