Immigration reform 101: Is a sensible guest-worker program possible?
The immigration-reform plan proposed by a group of bipartisan senators seeks to establish a flexible guest-worker program. But labor and business want to do that in two very different ways.
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Labor officials also scowl at current temporary-worker programs because they believe the current system gives employers incentives to “cut corners” on worker rights and “cut wages” versus those paid to American workers, says Ms. DiBetetto.Skip to next paragraph
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Both sides largely agree that the system of legal immigration that took hold after the last round of comprehensive immigration reform in 1986 was dysfunctional and helped sow the seeds of today’s problem of illegal immigration.
“A mistake of the 1986 Act was that it did not provide for legal immigration at all skill levels, which would allow employers to fill the vacancies that they encounter after trying to recruit US workers,” said Randy Johnson, a senior vice president at the Chamber of Commerce who specializes in immigration issues, in an e-mailed statement. “Therefore these jobs went unfilled through legal programs and they became attractive to immigrants outside the country who came illegally to fill those jobs.”
While both labor and management aim to claim the mantle of having such “market-driven” solutions to these inequities, how the two sides would get to such a system diverge sharply.
How business sees it
Commercial interests like Mr. McBurney's hotel industry, alongside the high-tech and agriculture industries, say that they should have largely unlimited access to certain categories of special workers: low-skilled seasonal employees, high-tech computer scientists, or agricultural workers, respectively.
Let corporations set the number of foreign workers they need, these advocates argue.
The Immigration Innovation Act, a bipartisan measure led by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah and Amy Klobuchar (D) of Minnesota, shows how a system like this might work. The so-called "I-Squared Act" would, in part, allow visas for highly skilled workers (known as H1-Bs) to rise from the current 65,000 level to as many as 300,000 under one condition – corporate demand for such visas.
Alternatively, the government could hold a certain number of visas constant every year in each profession and allow companies to bid for visas beyond the regular allotment, suggests Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
In that way, “the visas that would provide the highest value to the economy – certainly the highest value to the firm – would be the ones that would be getting the preference,” Mr. Atkinson says.
In addition, such an auction could help raise money to invest in American STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, Atkinson points out.
How labor sees it
Liberal labor economists see such schemes as “really ridiculous,” says Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute. He and other like-minded economists don’t believe that current safeguards on the H1-B program – requiring corporations to attempt to hire Americans – are sufficient. As such, the schemes simply allow companies to substitute cheaper foreign labor for American.