It's so easy to find good help these days. But thanks to the power of the internet, illegal immigrants, and those in the country legally but who have no authorization to work, can compete for household jobs on an equal footing with Americans. My wife and I have used sites like www.craigslist.com and www.sittercity.com to find part-time babysitters and housekeepers and have found that anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the applicants we've come into contact with couldn't prove that they had the legal right to work in the U.S. The respondents ranged from the supposedly ignorant – those who claimed they thought they could work for us on tourist or student visas – to the defiantly brazen, who chastised me for asking about their legal status.
For example, a cleaning company in Chicago called KZ Solutions wrote, "I have to check and see if she (the housekeeper) is willing to do that, you are first customer in ten years to ask for this information," in response to my question about whether the person they were sending to the house could prove that they were in the country legally. Other housecleaners who were ready and eager to work for us suddenly stopped responding to our e-mails once I asked about legal status. What I noticed, however, was that those who couldn't prove that they were legal weren't offering lower prices than those who were legal (Americans and legal immigrants).
The situation on the babysitting front was much the same. Nearly half of those we came into contact with were in the country legally, but had no right to work. (A mixture of "students," and "tourists," on B, F, and J visas). I forwarded my correspondence with three of the job applicants who admitted they had no legal right to work to sittercity.com management and was impressed that they immediately deleted the online profiles of those three applicants.
In avoiding the legal status question entirely, the applicants who suffer the most may be both legal immigrants and Americans of non-European descent. Many potential employers don't want to take the risk of hiring an illegal worker, so they just pass over anyone who appears to have been born outside the country. Sure, they could ask the person for proof of their legal status – but it's a socially awkward topic that many are happy to avoid altogether.
But who cares if babysitters and housecleaners are using online sites to advertise their services, they're the only ones who want these jobs anyways, right? The notion that Americans (or legal immigrants for that matter) don't want to clean houses or watch children is completely false. Americans have always done these jobs, and now, as we remain mired in recession, the supply of well-qualified labor is probably greater than it ever has been before.
But even if there are Americans out there looking for this type of work, isn't it cheaper to hire someone who doesn't have the legal right to work? I found no evidence that housekeepers or babysitters who had no legal right to work were offering their services for lower hourly wages, and, in some cases, those who were in the U.S. illegally were charging more than U.S. citizens.
For our part-time babysitting gig, the Brazilian and Peruvian applicants we encountered with no legal right to work wanted $13 to $15 per hour. In the case of the Peruvian "tourist," she hadn't even arrived in the States yet, but was already trying to line up gigs at $15 per hour prior to her "working vacation."
I'm almost embarrassed to admit that we had one American applicant who had a master's degree in international relations, another with a bachelor's degree from Colgate, and another who'd recently graduated from Vassar College. All were eager to work for $12 per hour, or less. We hired the young lady from Vassar and are thrilled with the quality of her work. She won't work for us forever, but it's a shame that she and others in her situation have to advertise their services on the same sites with people who don't have the legal right to work in the U.S. And the fact that a Vassar graduate is willing to work for less than what some illegal immigrants are charging is both a sad commentary on the state of our economy and our dysfunctional immigration system.
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