Employers Exploiting Guest Worker Program

| by AFL-CIO

Alexis Spencer Notabartolo, researcher for the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees (DPE), writes about a new report, which calls for reform of the nation’s H-1B guest worker program.

The introduction of major comprehensive immigration reform legislation last week has rekindled the debate over our nation’s immigration policy.

One of the key flashpoints in the debate is the guest worker system. These programs are overly complicated, lack accountability and have lax tracking enforcement, according to a new report by DPE. The report shows employers who use the H-1B visa guest worker program are abusing the system, claiming false labor shortages to import workers who are then intimidated and often forced to work for low pay.

Gaming the System: Guest Worker Visa Programs and Professional and Technical Workers in the U.S.” also draws on previously unavailable U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reports. Click here to download the report.

None of the guest worker programs, including H-1B, protects the rights of domestic or guest workers, the report says. The guest workers who are hired to fill labor shortages in certain fields often are mistreated and exploited by unscrupulous recruiters and employers. The report shows that H-1B guest workers—many of whom work in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics and education fields—often are not paid a fair wage for their work, which helps pull down wages for everyone in those professions.

The report cites a congressionally mandated study released by the National Research Council, which found that “the current size of the H-1B workforce relative to the overall number of IT (information technology) professionals is large enough to keep wages from rising as fast as might be expected in a tight labor market. ” The Research Council goes on to say that if a genuine labor shortage existed, IT wages would have risen dramatically in ways they have not. In addition, unemployment rates in these fields have increased significantly over the past year, with engineers reaching their highest unemployment rate since at least 1972.

Graduation rates also indicate that the United States is producing enough graduates to meet the employment needs of the industry.

“Gaming the System” calls for Congress to direct the Government Accountability Office to undertake a systematic study of H-1B visa holders. Congress also should adopt the framework laid out by former Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall and the Economic Policy Institute into any immigration reform initiatives. This framework has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO and Change to Win and has five key elements:

-- An independent commission to monitor industry trends and labor needs for future immigration. The commission, which would be established in two stages, would improve the way labor market shortages are measured and put in place procedures to efficiently adjust foreign labor flows to employers’ needs, while protecting domestic and foreign labor standards.
-- A secure and effective worker authorization mechanism.
-- Rational operation and control of the border.
-- Provisions for a clear pathway to citizenship for undocumented persons.
-- Improvement, not expansion, of temporary worker programs, limited to temporary or seasonal, not permanent, jobs.