Who’s interest do temporary visa programs serve

A new report, “Visas, Inc.: Corporate Control and Policy Incoherence in the U.S. Temporary Foreign Labor System,” from the Global Workers Justice Alliance, provides an analysis of the many visas that employers use and misuse to bring workers into the U.S. from abroad: http://www.globalworkers.org/sites/default/files/visas_inc/index.html .

The report includes the perspective of the workers’ home countries and highlights the exploitation faced by such workers, including unpaid wages, unsafe conditions, and even trafficking.   Between 700,000 and 900,000 foreign citizens work in the United States on temporary visas.  These individuals work in every industry, from low-wage jobs to specialty occupations in health care or information technology. 

The report points out that U.S. employers, regardless of the industry or the type of temporary visa at issue, have substantial economic incentives, built into the visa framework, to hire foreign workers in place of a potential or existing U.S. workforce.  These incentives include both direct exemptions, payroll taxes for example, but also a lack of regulation resulting in foreign workers being paid lower wages for the same job.  Moreover, workers on temporary visa programs are wholly dependent on their employer for their fragile status in the U.S.  This creates a culture of fear that inhibits workers from reporting abuse or exploitation. 

The report also provides insight from the Associate General Counsel and Director of the Immigrant Worker Program at the AFL-CIO on the misuse of the E-2 visa, which allows foreign investors to bring workers with “special skills” from their home countries.  She described one investor in Florida who brought in his own sheet metal workers—in spite of the fact that there were many highly skilled Americans, represented by unions in the metal trades, who were out of work. 

One thing is clear from the report for unions, union members, and workers from abroad on temporary visas, and that is that employers, particularly corporate employers, are unlikely to have their interests at heart.  A coalition between these groups may be a next step to confronting this common obstacle to respect and dignity for a working class in the U.S., regardless of citizenship. 

By Lisl Duncan

Legal Developments