Friday, March 03, 2006

Why I oppose a temporary guest worker program.

I must start off by saying that my opposition to the proposed "guest worker" provisions in the current version of the Senate's compromise immigration bill; “The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006”, sponsored by Judiciary Chairmen Arlen Specter, are not based solely on the flaws in this particular bill, but on the whole concept of using "temporary" workers to fill our nations labor demands.

Before I begin my rant as to why the concept of guest workers is both morally wrong and economically ill- conceived, I would like to look at this particular piece of legislation.

At the present time we must keep in mind that this proposed bill is still in its embryonic stage and has only today moved to the full Judiciary Committee for debate. From this early mark-up though, we can see that many of the more draconian measures from the House bill (HR 4437) have been incorporated. The classification of any immigration related offense, no matter how small, as an "aggravated felony", the "indefinite detention" of those who violate immigration laws, and the limiting of judicial review for immigration claims, have all been integrated into Specter's version.

As a "compromise bill" it also contains aspects of the "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005" sponsored by Senators Kennedy/McCain. One of these aspects is the inclusion of a guest worker provision, but it has been drastically modified from the original.

Let's take a look at both guest worker plans:
(more below the fold)


Title III: Essential Worker Visa Program: "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005" (Kennedy/'McCain)

  • Creates a new temporary visa (H-5A) to allow foreign workers to enter and fill available jobs that require few or no skills

  • Applicants must show that they have a job waiting in the U.S., pay a fee of $500 in addition to application fees, and clear all security, medical, and other checks

  • Requires updating of America's Job Bank to make sure job opportunities are seen first by American workers

  • Initial cap on H-5A visas is set at 400,000, but the annual limit will be gradually adjusted up or down based on demand in subsequent years

  • Of the 400,000 annual visas, 50,000 must be allocated to "qualifying counties" that are outside a metropolitan area and that, during the last 20-year-period experienced a net out-migration of at least 10%

  • Visa is valid for three years, and can be renewed one time for a total of 6 years; at the end of the visa period the worker either has to return home or be in the pipeline for a green card

  • Visa is portable, but if the worker loses his job he has to find another one within 60 days or return home

  • Ensures that employers hiring temporary workers abide by Federal, state and local labor, employment and tax laws

  • Prohibits the hiring of temporary workers as independent contractors

  • Protects temporary workers from abuse by foreign labor contractors or employers

  • Gives temporary workers and U.S. workers remedies for violations of their rights

  • An employer can sponsor the H-5A visa holder for a green card, or after accumulating four years of work in H-5A status, the worker can apply to adjust status on his/her own

  • Sets up a task force to evaluate the H-5A program and recommend improvements

Kennedy/McCain Bill



Title IV: Nonimmigrant Temporary Worker “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006” (Specter)

  • Creates a new temporary visa (H-2C) to allow foreign workers to enter and fill available jobs that require few or no skills

  • Applicants must show that they have a job waiting, pays a $500 fee in addition to the cost of processing, undergoes a medical exam at his or her own expense and provides a criminal history, immigration history, and proves no involvement in gangs or terrorist groups to DHS.

  • Spouses and children would be eligible to accompany or join the principal alien for an additional fee of $500

  • Visa is valid for three years, with one three-year period extension. At the end of the six-year period, workers must return to their home country for at least one year before reentering the program.

  • Visa is portable, but if the worker loses his job he has to find another one within 45 days or return home. If returned the immigrant could reenter if they meet all the original requirements.

  • Individuals holding H-2C visas could travel outside of the United States and be readmitted on the same visa assuming the period of authorized admission had not expired

  • Requires employers to comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws, including laws affecting migrant and seasonal agricultural workers.

  • Foreign labor contractors who recruit workers under this program would required to register with the Secretary of Labor

  • The Secretary of Labor would establish an electronic job registry and a nationwide system of public labor exchange services to provide information on employment opportunities available to U.S. workers

Specter Bill

A careful reading of both bills reveals that the Specter bill has eliminated crucial aspects of Kennedy/McCain. One of the largest changes is the removal of any path to permanent residency for immigrant workers. Under Specters plan immigrants remain on a permanent cycle of temporary status, working for up to six years, only to return home for a year before they can start all over again. At least Kennedy/McCain offers a path to permanency for those who wish it.

Specter's plan also specifies no concrete number of visas to be issued under the plan, only a commission to study the issue. Without firm numbers, the Specter plan would be open to continual revision by business lobbying groups wishing to increase and decrease numbers to suit their needs. Kennedy/McCain provides firm numbers and a method to increase or decrease them by use of a specific formula.

While both bills tie immigrant eligibility to remain in the program to employment, the Specter bill places far more eligiblity restrictions on the employer, and sets up a "pool" of qualified employers:


To qualify the employer must attest that the employment of such worker will:

1. Not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed workers in the U.S.

2. Did not and will not cause displacement of a U.S. worker employed during a 180-day period beginning 90 days before the petition is filed.

3. The worker will be paid the greater of the prevailing wage or the actual wage paid by the employer to similarly situated workers

4. Such worker will be provided the working conditions and benefits normal to similarly situated workers in the area of intended employment

5. There is no strike, lockout or work stoppage in the course of a labor dispute in the occupation at the place of employment;

6. Provide benefits at least equal to those provided under to state worker compensation law for comparable employment;

7. There are not sufficient able, willing and qualified employees who are available at the time and place needed;

8. The employer has made good faith efforts to recruit U.S. workers including, recruitment at least 14 days but no more than 90 days prior to filing

While some of these added restrictions are quite reasonable, taken in total, they will tend to limit the kind of employers who would qualify for the program, particularly amongst the small, independent business that now hire many undocumented workers. The bookkeeping, time restrictions and paperwork involved could prove prohibitive to small employers, leaving only larger operations, with the ability to hire extra personel to oversee processing, in the "pool". With a limited employer pool, immigrants who wish to change jobs may be reluctant to do so, no matter what the reason.

The Kennedy/McCain bill gives the temporary worker the same job mobility as a "green card" where the immigrant can make job decisions based on what job is best for them, not limited to a pre-approved "pool".

For these reasons I find the Temporary Guest Worker proposals in the Specter bill unacceptable.

My other problem is I find the whole concept of "temporary" workers impractical and discriminatory. I understand that in certain agricultural sectors the need for large amounts of seasonal labor is required, and for these kinds of jobs I see the logic in temporary workers. Outside of that circumstance, I see no need or reason to have such a program.

If an employer needs a worker today to fill a job, how can he, the government or anyone else, possibly know that the job will no longer exist in an arbitrary amount of time like three or six years. That is the premise this program has to work on in order make any logical sense. If not, and the job is in fact available after that time, why would there be any reason to send the worker home?

The only reason would be to keep the workers from putting in enough time to qualify for pay raises, benefits, the ability to unionize etc. It's purely discriminatory. It's a plan to perpetuate an "underclass" of revolving, cheap, immigrant labor.

If the labor market dictates that a given number of low-skilled workers are needed every year to fill jobs in this country, and these jobs can not in fact be filled with native workers, than the solution is to allow people from other nations to come and fill them. Not as temporary, disposable workers to be replaced as soon as they gain economic privileges, but as full fledged new members of society who can enjoy the fruits of their labor without fear of being uprooted every six years.

It seems very simple to me: Would American workers sign on to a plan by which no one could ever stay at one job any more that six years, no matter how much they wanted too? Would they accept a plan that assured they could never qualify for a pension, pay raises, extra weeks of vacation, medical benefits, a 401K, and all the other perks that go with long-term employment? Would American workers accept that they would have to uproot their families and move every six years?

Of course not …. We believe in free will and economic autonomy. Why should we expect immigrant workers to accept any less?
Veiw more from Manning the Barricades

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