Jobs With Justice Education Fund and the Economic Policy Institute announced today the launch of GuestworkerData.org, a new website showcasing previously nonpublic data on the “H” temporary foreign worker visa programs—commonly referred to as “guestworker” programs. The data were acquired from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) I-129 petition data through extensive Freedom of Information Act requests.
The data that are publicly released by USCIS say very little about the occupations or the employers of visa holders, where they are located, or the wages they are being paid. Indeed, USCIS and the State Department publish almost nothing about the programs, except for a general annual report and the total number of visas issued. GuestworkerData.org is the first time USCIS data on which employers use guestworker programs and where they are located are available to the general public.
“There are likely around 2 million guestworkers in the United States, which represents a sizable portion of our workforce about which very little data are available,” said EPI Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research Daniel Costa. “GuestworkerData.org is an important first step to understanding the role that guestworkers play in our economy. Any comprehensive immigration reform package—or executive actions taken by President Obama on immigration—has to address the fact that these workers have fewer legal protections and are more easily exploited than their U.S. counterparts.”
“Before rushing to expand U.S. guestworker programs that have the potential to lower labor standards and trap men and women in egregious work arrangements, policymakers should have all the facts,” added Jobs With Justice Education Fund Senior Policy Analyst Michael Wasser. “Temporary foreign worker visa programs are too important to have the information about how employers use them shrouded in secrecy. GuestworkerData.org increases transparency of the existing “H” visa programs, and, in doing so, can aid Congress and advocates in developing better migration policy.”
GuestworkerData.org will be continuously updated with new analyses. Currently, the site features:
- An interactive U.S. map showing the number of petitions in each state for H-1B, H-2B, and H-2A visas for Fiscal Year 2013 (FY2013)
- The top petitioner for those three visa programs, plus the top occupation in H-1B and H-2B for FY2013
- The top five petitioners and occupations in each state in the H-1B program for FY2013
While the H-1B visa program for high-skilled workers can be used to attract some of the best and brightest workers from around the world and serve as a bridge to permanent immigration for them, it is too often abused by employers seeking to hire entry-level foreign workers, or skilled workers at lower wages than their U.S. counterparts. Many times, workers brought to the United States on an H-1B cannot easily switch between employers, which means that they have little bargaining power over wages or employment conditions. Abuse of the H-1B program has the potential to be a major drag on wages; despite claims of a shortage of STEM workers, wages in high-tech industries have been flat for the past decade.