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Guest worker program costs ND jobs and revenue, labor group says

FSA Construction workers
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FARGO — A report from local worker advocacy group Local Jobs North claims that by the end of 2020, the H-2B temporary foreign worker program will have cost North Dakota $85 million in lost revenue and nearly 2,500 construction jobs since 2008.

The H-2B program allows employers to temporarily hire foreign workers for non-agricultural jobs when local workers are not available.

Those foreign workers spend less of their earned income locally than would a local worker, costing the local economy millions in missed revenue, the report said.

“We estimate that every dollar of local payroll produces $1.37 worth of economic activity, compared to just $0.42 for workers on H-2B visas, so we expect each dollar of H-2B payroll to result in $0.96 in lost economic activity," said Lucas Franco, Research Manager for LIUNA Minnesota & North Dakota, a union of skilled construction laborers.

The heaviest concentration of guest worker use in the area is in concrete, which accounts for nearly 80% of certifications. The first contractor in Fargo approved to hire H-2B workers hired 14 of them in 2012.

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Fargo-Moorhead Home Builders Association executive vice president Krista Mund said she hasn't heard about H-2B visas being used by home builders.

Companies in the Fargo-Moorhead area have been certified to use 1,100 of the 2,100 H-2B visas issued in North Dakota between 2012 and 2019 plus 169 in 2020.

Usage of the program across the country has grown in recent years, rising from 69,684 H-2B visas issued in 2015 to about 101,000 in 2020. In North Dakota, the number has grown from 13 in 2008 to 350 in 2019 with companies seeking to hire 377 guest workers in 2020.

The report estimates that of the $85 million in lost economic activity in North Dakota since 2008, $39 million has been in the Fargo-Moorhead area, with $23 million in western North Dakota and $8 million in Bismarck.

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