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New foreign worker wage increase long overdue

Based on new DOL regulations, the wages that employers using the H-2B visa program are required to pay will increase by, on average, about $4 per hour.  Not surprisingly, many of those employers are claiming that this increase will put them out of business, but this long overdue adjustment of H-2B wages is necessary to ensure that U.S. workers are no longer adversely impacted by allowing employers to import foreign workers.

In theory, the H-2B visa program allows employers to supplement their workforce with foreign workers for seasonal or short term non-agricultural work when there are not enough U.S. workers available for the jobs.  Employers are required to recruit local workers at the prevailing wage before they are permitted to get H-2B visas.  The prevailing wage is supposed to be tailored to the industry and the area of intended employment to prevent local workers from being undercut for foreign competition.  In reality, the required H-2B wage rates have been substandard for years, representing the lowest wage level for each type of job in a given geographical area rather than the prevailing wage.

Wednesday’s N&O article by David Ranii provided some examples that were meant to demonstrate how outrageous the new wages are:

“For instance, a seafood worker who earns $11.18 an hour would gross $447.20 for a 40-hour week. That’s higher than the $402 average weekly wage across all industries in Hyde County, and the $388 in Tyrell County, according to Employment Security Commission data.”

But a closer look at those numbers actually demonstrates how flawed the current H-2B wage methodology is and how reasonable the new wage rates are.  Ranii compares what an H-2B seafood worker will make in 40 hours to the average weekly wage in Hyde and Tyrrell Counties.  Because the county data is not based on 40 hour work weeks, that is a useless comparison.  To compare apples to apples, we should look instead at the median and mean hourly wages in Hyde and Tyrrell Counties.

County Median Hourly Wage Mean Hourly Wage
Hyde $13.67 $14.63
Tyrrell $14.29 $16.00

The new H-2B seafood wage of $11.18 per hour is more than $2 less than the county averages.  That is a big improvement over the 2010-11 wage of $7.79 per hour, but it is hardly as outrageous as the article claims.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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