Restricting Access to H-2B Visa Workers Increased Wages & Improved Working Conditions in Bar Harbor, Maine
Open-borders advocates often claim that government initiatives, like the H-2B visa program that allows American firms to hire temporary guest workers, do not impact local wages or employment rates.
This is simply untrue according to the basic principle of supply and demand: a bigger labor supply means lower wages, that’s just how it works—and vice versa.
New evidence out of New England is making this point abundantly clear.
Bar Harbor is a small coastal town in Maine. The economy depends largely on the summer tourist boom, when New York’s intelligentsia class (read: locusts) ritually descends upon the vale, plundering it of its placidity.
Until this year, Bar Harbor took full advantage of the H-2B visa program to import temporary guest workers to meet the summer labor demand. They worked in hotels, restaurants, etc.
However, this year they’ve already reached their guest worker quota for the year, and are currently being forced to hire American workers (the horror).
To do that, the town’s Chamber of Commerce had to go through the odious process of hosting a jobs fair, to connect employers and those looking for work (as opposed to importing workers from abroad). What a huge economic burden—will the town survive?
Likewise, local businesses have had to improve working conditions to attract workers. For example, some businesses are experimenting with more flexible scheduling to appeal to old and young part-time workers. Others are offering higher wages to attract talent.
It’s almost as if H-2B visa workers displaced local workers, and reduced wages, and now that Bar Harbor can’t rely on them, things are returning to their natural balance.
Of course, this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. It’s basic supply and demand: when supply goes up, prices go down (and vice versa). This is how free markets determine prices.
By adding immigrant labor (legal or illegal) into the market, you expand the labor supply, thereby decreasing its price (wages). There is no way around this fact. This is why businesses in Bar Harbor are increasing wages—they have to bid realistic prices to attract workers.
Employment rates are also affected, since foreign workers displace American workers. Why? It’s not because they’re better, it’s because they’re cheaper, and employers have more leverage over them—work long hours in poor conditions or face deportation.
Again, look at Bar Harbor: employers are being forced to offer better schedules, and other incentives, to attract American workers, rather than relying fully on temporary foreign workers.
We should take the lessons of Bar Harbor and apply them more broadly: America is addicted to immigrant labor, it’s time to get it under control.