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Guest opinion

Goldman: This Thanksgiving give thanks to immigrants

Mo Goldman is a Tucson attorney specializing in immigration law.

This Thanksgiving every American should all be thankful for immigrants. Immigrants are the artery that keeps the heart pumping in this country. Without immigrants, our entire system would break down and the heart would stop working.

This is especially evident right now when supply chain issues are wreaking havoc all over the place.

Immigrants are one of the primary reasons you have a roof over your head, food on your table and items in the stores or delivered to your doors. Every day we should be thankful for immigrants, and especially on the official day of thanks. I speak from experience: Be thankful for immigrants!

For more than 20 years, I have been specializing in immigration law. One of the most common questions I receive from business owners: How can I bring immigrant laborers to the United States, because I’m struggling to find anyone to do this difficult work or who I can retain? I have heard from construction companies, landscaping companies, restaurants, trucking companies and many others.

This holiday season our supply chain is suffering more than we have ever experienced in our lifetime, and one of the reasons for this is that many trucking companies are dealing with retention issues due to poor working conditions — conditions that include 70-plus-hour work weeks, sleeping in parking lots, waiting for lengthy times until bathroom breaks or being away from family for days or weeks on end. Many of the licensed drivers have opted for other similarly paying jobs with better working conditions. So, who is left to deliver goods from overwhelmed ports?

The American Trucking Associations claim that the U.S. is facing a shortage of approximately 80,000 truck drivers. Whether it’s a shortage issue or an issue of retention that’s up for debate, but the reality is that many companies are desperate enough that they are seeking drivers from abroad. I know because I’ve been contacted several times to assist. But, despite what many think is a simple process of bringing qualified immigrants to the U.S., it is not easy at all. In fact, it’s near to impossible because of serious limitations on work visas. This is not only a problem for trucking, but for many industries including construction, ranching, hospitality, and others.

H-2A and H-2B visas are typically what we would look at when evaluating whether the company can bring foreign employees to the United States for labor intensive work. These visa categories come with serious limitations:

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The H-2A visa is limited to agricultural workers and there are many criteria for the employing business including meeting specific wage requirements and making sure the job is given priority for any U.S. citizen that applies. It can be an arduous process for smaller businesses to qualify their prospective employees for the H-2A and the working conditions are often quite brutal. The visa is also limited for seasonal or temporary labor with no path to permanent residency, which can be frustrating for both the employer who wants to retain hard-working immigrants and the immigrant who would like to obtain a more permanent status in the U.S.

The H-2B visa is non-agricultural and limited to seasonal, one-time, intermittent or peakload work. So, this can be difficult for businesses like trucking that want to retain foreign workers who they would prefer to keep on for much longer than less than a year. It is also difficult for H-2B visa holders to obtain the appropriate commercial driver licenses from the states. Similar to the H-2A, this visa requires a process of the employer demonstrating that they cannot fill the jobs with qualified U.S. citizens who are willing to be hired. The H-2B is also subject to an annual cap of 66,000 visas per fiscal year. The need is still so great that on May 25, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor increased the cap up to 22,000 additional visas through the end of fiscal year 2021.

So, where does this leave our country?

We need to be more mindful of the global migration that is occurring around us. We need to realize that immigrants make our country stronger economically. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, immigrants added $2 trillion to the U.S. GDP in 2016 and $458.7 billion to state, local, and federal taxes in 2018.

Your entire Thanksgiving meal has been impacted by immigration whether it be the turkeys that are packaged and shipped to the stores, the produce you use in your stuffing and side dishes or the potatoes you consume. They have all been touched by immigrants in one way or another.

Be thankful this Thanksgiving but also think about the need we have for more immigrants and that there are millions who are still waiting for a path to citizenship which will only strengthen our economy and provide these individuals with the ability to live without fear. Happy Thanksgiving!

Mo Goldman is a Tucson attorney specializing in immigration law.

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