Our ultimate goal should be to help Americans find good paying jobs. Abusing the guest worker program is hurting the millions of Americans who are currently looking for employment.
Every year thousands of people legally enter the United States on temporary work visas. They use the guest worker program as a way to get their foot in the door, and begin chasing their own version of the American Dream.
Many people, like Senator Orin Hatch, want to see the guest worker program expanded to fill a hole in the US labor market and “meet the demands for workers in the STEM fields.”
Senator Hatch is not alone in his belief. Many business leaders say there is a shortage of workers in these specialized STEM fields. Why is that? With the US unemployment rate still above 7%, millions of Americans are out there every day looking for work. Are we really saying that none of these people have the qualifications to work in these jobs?
No, the problem is that corporations do not care about the workers or their local communities; they only care about one thing, their bottom line. They are only interested in lowering their labor costs, and they do this by bringing in thousands of immigrant workers.
In a free market two things, supply and demand, determine the value of a product. The same is true in the labor market. Why else would millions of people take low-wage jobs? Unemployment is high, which means there are plenty of people looking for work. This drives wages down. If you are not willing to work for the wages offered, chances are there is someone else who will.
This is where the guest worker program comes in to ‘save the day’. For many years companies have been saying that they do not have enough qualified applicants seeking employment in STEM fields. Instead of raising the wages they offer, companies began to look outside the US for new workers. Guest workers flood the market and are willing to work for much less.
Just for the privilege to work in in the United States guest workers are charged outrageous fees by ‘head hunters’. This has led to numerous instances of worker abuse. Guest workers become indentured servants, and are treated as such.
In Louisiana, workers in a shrimp processing facility were forced to work 20 hours a day, seven days a week, at minimum wage. They were not paid overtime, or provided any of the provisions guaranteed to American workers by US labor laws.
Ronil Hira an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the author of Outsourcing America, says the guest worker program (H-1B) is “deeply flawed.” Hira goes on to say that many companies are hiring guest workers before offering the job to American workers.
This is why we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Unfortunately the current immigration bill that passed the US Senate includes and expansion of the guest worker program. The good thing is that it also includes stronger regulations on employers who use the guest worker program.
As part of the comprehensive reform package new laws will increase the wages for H-1B workers, and protect American workers with new regulations against the ‘displacement of US workers’.
We need to pass immigration reform to help the 11 million aspiring Americans as well as the millions of unemployed Americans. We need stronger labor laws to protect against the abuse of the guest worker program, for the betterment of American workers. Reducing the number of guest workers will decrease the supply of qualified workers, in turn increasing the wages for new and existing workers.