Immigration reform tends to draw out the same debate over the American economy and job rate in terms of undocumented immigrants and the possibility of amnesty especially in my current city of Maryville, Tennessee. Both sides have plenty of arguments as to why undocumented immigrants both help and hurt the economy, but one aspect of immigration that is overlooked in the debate on reform is the legal system of guest worker visas. According to the Migration Policy Institute, guest workers “are people who are imported to meet labor market needs in the United States or in any country for limited periods of time. Their admission is not considered a basis for permanent residence or permanent stays in the country,” (Meissner). Guest workers fill many different job types in the United States and brings about its own issues for American workers and vulnerability of the guest workers.
Many believe that a guest worker visa recipient is someone with expert training who fills a specific need in America through a visa. While there are some guest worker visa holders who have expert, special skills, that is not the case for a significant portion of guest workers. According to the Department for Professional Employees, “Fifty-four percent, 130,528, of the H-1B visas in FY 2010, the most recent year with available data, went to non-immigrants for “entry-level” positions. Entry-level positions require a “basic understanding of duties and perform routine tasks requiring limited judgment.” Entry-level positions also happen to be the lowest paid” (“Guest Worker Visas”). This directly argues against the idea that those coming into the country on a guest worker visa are only stepping into jobs that require specialized training. Guest workers filling entry-level jobs may not be as necessary and can be an instance of large corporations opting for cheaper labor sources. One example includes Souther California Edison (SCE) who between 2014-2015 laid off 500 information technology professionals whom they replaced with guest workers. Those who were laid off were required to train the new guest workers in order to receive their severance package (“Guest Worker Visas”). Instead of hiring US citizens who require a set wage, the current guest worker visa system is easily abused by corporations while leaving the guest workers rather defenseless.
If a person comes to America on a guest worker visa with limited training or education, he or she is more likely to experience mistreatment since he or she has few other options for employment. These workers fill job sectors according to these specific categories where there may not enough workers to fill the jobs; however, guest workers who fulfill an important facet of the American economy are not guaranteed basic human rights. Guest workers in America are extremely vulnerable as they are tied to their job economically and socially since they are only in the country for the purpose of fulfilling a work requirement. The disposability and exploitation is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center in their report on guest workers. First, the report establishes the main issue that leads to harm, which is that “unlike U.S. citizens, guest workers do not enjoy the most fundamental protection of a competitive labor market — the ability to change jobs if they are mistreated. Instead, they are bound to the employers who “import” them” (Close to). When a citizen who works for a company dislikes his or her job situation, he or she has the ability to leave and find better options. This is much harder or even impossible for guest workers under the current system.
Outside of having limited choice in one’s position, guest workers face abuse and harmful conditions. Specific abuses cited by the SPLC include: human trafficking and debt servitude, terrible working conditions, squalid living conditions, and denial of medical benefits for on the job injuries (Close to). These conditions are harmful to the workers and can come with the territory of guest worker programs. All of the abuse can easily occur because “the employer literally holds the deportation card. One of the most chronic abuses reported by guest workers concerns the seizure of identity documents” (Close to). Because of the possibility and documented cases of abuse and exploitation, there are many, including the SPLC, who do not condone the guest worker program. The SPLC and others have called for an entirely new guest worker program.
Ethical changes to the guest worker program in the United States is an important, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of necessary immigration reform. Current regulations such as restrictions against using recruiters who charge a fee, a company having to prove there is no American laborer to fill the position, or requiring a specific job guaranteed to an incoming guest worker are not well enforced. Reform options include removal of the guest worker system completely, but that extreme is much less likely to ever be approved. In order to keep a guest worker program in America, there should be stricter caps on how many and what kind of guest workers are granted visas even to the point of not having any visas given for entry-level work. There also needs to be enforcement and oversight provisions crafted for the safety of guest workers when they are in the country. Another way to address these issues is to require companies to follow federal labor laws for guest workers as if they were American citizens. Guest workers do the same work an American would and should be entitled to the same basic human rights guaranteed in this country.