Immigration system should meet labor market needs and reform guest worker programs

President Obama and a group of eight Senators (also known as the “Gang of Eight”) have each released sets of principles for reforming our immigration system. Their courage and hard work to fix our long-broken immigration system should be applauded. Both plans rightly focus on granting a path to citizenship for the unauthorized immigrant population—which will allow more than 5 percent of the U.S. labor force to come out of the shadows and the underground economy. This will level the playing field for all workers (as well as the firms that employ them) and end the exploitation of foreign workers who labor without the protections offered by most labor and employment laws.

MORE: Key EPI research on immigration

What has not been discussed to a large extent—and which the president and the Gang of Eight’s frameworks do not yet address in detail—is how we manage future flows of immigrant workers, and how we fix the poorly functioning programs employers use to hire workers from abroad. Any acceptable and successful comprehensive solution to our immigration system will hinge upon this.

The U.S. temporary foreign worker programs, also known as “guest worker” programs, are notorious for facilitating the abuse and exploitation of foreign workers, for being used as a way to displace and replace U.S. workers, and as a way to suppress or depress wages in certain industries on both the high and low skilled ends of the spectrum. For years, human, civil, and labor rights groups have been exposing what can and does go wrong in these programs. Much of EPI’s research on immigration has focused on deconstructing and explaining what’s wrong with guest worker programs, and offers practicable solutions to remedy them.

EPI’s research and analysis also looks more broadly at immigration’s impacts on the labor force, and offers common sense, comprehensive solutions to fix our immigration system in a way that benefits immigrant and American workers by growing wages and increasing productivity, and by safeguarding basic labor standards for all workers. For background and information on these issues, check out EPI’s immigration resource page, which has links to many of our essential reports, commentary, and blog posts on these issues.

  • JCStrss

    This nonsense gets as far as this: Social Security contracts with Lockheed-Martin and Northrup-Grumman for IT services and they subcontract with outfits like Infosys for guest workers. We end up with people with limited English mastery, lack of cultural insight and zero organizational knowledge taking notes and publishing meeting reports in “world English”; ostensibly because we need to import workers to do this. Budget documents show that SSA pays 36% more
    for a contractor work-year than for a U.S. civil servant (billed rate vs.
    salary plus comprehensive overhead (OMB A-76 standard)). The diffusion of responsibility and loss of institutional knowledge about our own systems will cost the taxpayers even more. It’s all about corporate profits.

  • jerseycityjoan

    This is from the front page of your website today:

    “We are still in a crisis-level jobs hole. The U.S. labor market started 2013 with fewer jobs than it had 7 years ago in January 2006, even though the potential workforcehas grown by over 8 million since then. The jobs deficit is so large that at January’s growth rate, it would take until 2021 to get back to the pre-recession unemployment rate.

    — Heidi Shierholz
    February 1, 2013 9:27 am”

    It certainly reinforces my view that we don’t have enough jobs for ourselves and that we should be looking for ways to reduce future immigration.

    I can’t say I feel what we have seen from those involved in immigration reform has shown much courage. They seem focused on helping improve the lives of immigrants — those already here and those to come.

    That sets up a conflict between immigrants and people already here, who of course think that as US citizens,their needs should be first.

  • Doug Forbes

    “Immigration should meet labor market needs”


    That is an irrational viewpoint.

    We do not need people for our jobs we need jobs for people.