Congress could strip traditional protections for low-wage workers, including those on temporary visas, in its yearly spending bill, and that critics say it "will result in pink slips for U.S. workers and exploitation for foreign workers," according to a labor advocacy group.
The House version of a massive yearly spending bill known as the Omnibus revives once-failed legislation that would increase the number of foreign workers granted entrance to the United States to fill low-wage jobs, such as those in the construction and food service industries.
The number of H-2B visas, which are doled out to unskilled immigrant workers, could increase by as much as 250,000, according to the provision, which was spearheaded by Sens. Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) and Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.).
A leading labor union has condemned the legislation as "shameful" and warned that it would lead to firing of many low-wage American workers.
"The greatest challenge facing the U.S. economy is wage stagnation. Millions of working families are struggling to make ends meet," the International Labor Recruitment Working Group said in a statement on Wednesday. "Congress should not enact measures that would further erode wages and standards for difficult and often dangerous work in industries such as landscaping, forestry, seafood processing, hospitality, carnivals, and construction.
The organization is calling on lawmakers to immediately strip the H-2B language, which it says would "would lead to the admission of almost 200,000 additional low wage guest workers and would eliminate protections that keep workers from being brought in and idled without work or pay for long periods of time."
The bill could as much as quadruple the issuance of these low-wage visas and lead to widespread layoffs, congressional critics say.
Additionally, the bill would permit employers to pay unfairly low wages for both migrant and U.S. workers," according to the advocacy group.
One Capitol Hill source apprised of the measure claimed that the "bill resuscitates and expands one of the most controversial provisions in the wage-crushing Gang of Eight bill," a massive 2013 immigration reform effort.
"These H-2B provisions are piecemeal immigration changes that should not be passed through the back door of appropriations," the labor union said, criticizing efforts to sneak the language in to the current yearly spending bill. "Any immigration amendments should be debated in regular process with immigrant rights and U.S. worker organizations at the table."
Update 3:22 P.M.: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) slammed the last minute inclusions to the bill.
"The more than 2,000 page year-end funding bill contains a dramatic change to federal immigration law that would increase by as much as four-fold the number of low-wage foreign workers provided to employers under the controversial H-2B visa program, beyond what is currently allowed," he said in a statement. "These foreign workers are brought in exclusively to fill blue collar non-farm jobs in hotels, restaurants, construction, truck driving, and many other occupations sought by millions of Americans."
Sessions also criticized the bill for permitting funding for a massive increase immigration.
"On top of this provision, the omnibus approves – without conditions – the president’s request for increased refugee admissions, allowing him to bring in as many refugees as he wants, from anywhere he wants, and then allow them to access unlimited amounts of welfare and entitlements at taxpayer expense. This will ensure that at least 170,000 green card, refugee and asylum approvals are issued to migrants from Muslim countries over just the next 12 months."