Guest Worker Program - Good or Bad?May 28, 2007 - by Donny Shaw
The immigration debate this week moves out of the Senate and into the country at large. Having worked for a week on the immigration bill, the Senate — and the House of Representatives — are taking a week-long Memorial Day recess. Debate of the immigration bill, however, will not take a break. It will follow Congressmen home as they go to work in their districts and it will continue to evolve and mature through discourse and the media. This country-wide debate will no-doubt have a major impact on how Congressmen view the bill when they return on June 5 to continue the debate on the Senate floor.
Each day this week, the Congress Gossip Blog will focus on one particularly contentious part of the comprehensive immigration bill. Today, we will start things off with Title IV, the proposed temporary guest worker program.
The guest worker program would allow a certain amount of tempoary workers to enter the country on “Y visas” to work for three two-year periods. Temporary workers would be required to return home after each two year period and at the end of the third period, they would not be eligible for citizenship. Working Immigrants has more details of the program.
According to a New York Times/CBS News poll published on May 25, two-thirds of Americans favor creating a temporary guest worker program. However, those who oppose the program, oppose it passionately. A May 20 New York Times editorial singled it out as the worst part of the bill:
>The agreement fails most dismally in its temporary worker program. “Temporary means temporary” has been a Republican mantra, motivated by the thinly disguised impulse to limit the number of workers, Latinos mostly, doing the jobs Americans find most distasteful. The deal calls for the creation of a new underclass that could work for two years at a time, six at the most, but never put down roots. Immigrants who come here under that system — who play by its rules, work hard and gain promotions, respect and job skills — should be allowed to stay if they wish. But this deal closes the door. It offers a way in but no way up, a shameful repudiation of American tradition that will encourage exploitation — and more illegal immigration.
Matthew Yglesias explains how the program encourages exploitation:
>A guest worker is, in a straightforward sense, not as well off as a regular immigrant. He has, perhaps, a higher-paying job than what was available in his home country. But, with his right to live in the United States tied to a specific employer, he has no meaningful recourse in case of maltreatment but to return to the land of his birth. He can’t bargain and can’t search for other employment opportunities. With the duration of his stay in the United States sharply limited, it will be impossible for him to join or form a union. With no prospect of ever becoming a citizen, he and his coworkers will never achieve sufficient political clout (or, indeed, any political clout at all) to ameliorate their situation through the public sector.
The Times’s final charge, that the guest worker program encourages more illegal immigrants, comes from the program’s lack of any reliable mechanism for making sure that guest workers return to their countries after their temporary stay is through.
It is clear that the guest worker program would be beneficial to employers as providing a source of reliable cheap labor, but is there some broader economic benefit? Economist Dani Rodrik argues that the program could help develop third-world countries without increasing downward pressure on the U.S. The following was extracted by Ezra Klein from Rodrik’s paper “”http://ksghome.harvard.edu/~drodrik/Feasglob.pdf">Feasible Globalization:"
>Consider for example a temporary work visa scheme that amounts to no more than 3 percent of the rich countries’ labor force. Under the scheme, skilled and unskilled workers from poor nations would be allowed employment in the rich countries for 3-5 years, to be replaced by a new wave of inflows upon return to their home countries. A back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that such a system would easily yield $200 billion annually for the citizens of developing nations, vastly more than the existing estimates of the gains from the current trade agenda. The positive spillovers that the returnees would generate for their home countries—the experience, entrepreneurship, investment, and work ethic they would bring back with them and put to work—would add considerably to these gains. What is equally important, the economic benefits would accrue directly to workers from developing nations. We would not need to wait for trickle-down to do its job.
Last week, the Senate voted on two amendments to the program, one from Barbara Boxer (D, CA) and Byron Dorgan (D, ND) that would strike the guest worker program from the bill, and another from Jeff Bingaman (D, NM) that would cut it in half — from 400,000 temporary workers per year, to 200,000. The Boxer-Dorgan amendment was rejected 64-31, but the Bingaman amendment was approved by a vote of 74-24.
What do you think about the program? Is it workable? Will you take the bill if the program is included when it comes out of the House?