Last week, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake introduced a bill creating a guest worker pilot program, marking the first ever standalone piece of legislation providing for the legal entry of lesser-skilled, non-agricultural guest workers to occupy year-round positions. Launching such a pilot program would be a critical step towards improving the legal immigration system, and opening up regulated channels for migration.
Senator Flake’s bill addresses the problematic gap that some workers have in finding legal avenues to U.S. employment. There does not currently exist a guest worker program for those looking for low-to-medium-skilled, year-long work.
This bill creates a 10-year pilot program that admits workers with less than a bachelor’s degree to do year-round, non-agricultural work. It would also create a flexible cap, which would allow firms to match economic demand for the positions they are offering.
As Senator Flake put it, “this kind of flexible, market-based visa program designed to better meet economic demand is exactly the approach we need to bring U.S.-immigration policy into the 21st century.” Over the last two years, we have released a substantial amount of research in support of guest worker programs and refuting commonly held objections:
- Guest workers dramatically reduce undocumented immigration from Mexico, proving that immigrant workers would utilize legal channels if they existed. This bill would create a new avenue for workers to come through, virtually eliminating the need for undocumented migration.
- 97 percent of guest workers in seasonal jobs do not overstay their visas. Critics of guest worker programs argue that allowing entry to America for lower skilled immigrants will result in them staying past the allotted time of their visa. But the evidence suggests otherwise, demonstrating that a new program would not result in heavy overstay rates.
- Immigrants are not to blame for construction unemployment, and the construction sector will benefit the most from the Flake bill. Immigrants are important contributors to the U.S. construction sector, and restrictions throttle possible growth.
- An exhaustive survey of public opinion on the topic of guest workers showcases increasing support from the American people on both sides of the aisle.
The bill would allow between 45,000 and 85,000 guest workers to enter the United States each year for the next ten years, so long as they came to areas with less than 5 percent unemployment.
These restrictions ensure that the bill will not be the whole answer to the nation’s illegal immigration problem, but it provides a strong base for what sensible legal immigration reforms should look like in Congress.
Throughout the duration of the program, the bill requires a study to determine its effects on wages, employment, economic growth, and welfare use to determine if the program should be continued. The undoubtedly positive results of such studies hopefully will encourage Congress to open it up permanently nationwide with enough workers to put illegal immigration behind us.
While most immigration advocates are focused on the Supreme Court case examining President Obama’s executive actions, the most important long-term fix needed to improve America’s immigration system is to expand legal options.