Jeff Flake, the Republican senator for Arizona, has put forth a legislation to introduce new US guest worker visa program. The senator feels that the scheme will help fill gaps that exist between H-2A (Agricultural workers), H-2B (non-agricultural seasonal workers) and the H-1B for highly skilled graduate workers. The new legislation, Willing Workers and Willing Employers Act, will create a new visa classification H-2C by modifying the Immigration and Nationality Act. This visa scheme will be on a long-term pilot scheme for the next 10 years, allowing the non-agricultural workforce, who have education below a Bachelor’s degree to enter the US to work the year round.
At the moment, it is difficult to bring overseas workforce to America. L-1A (managers and executives) and L-1B (skilled workers) visas are applicable only for cases where the staff has worked in an overseas business outside America for a minimum of one year in the past three years. The E-1 treaty trader and E-2 treaty investor visa schemes can be utilized by nationals from countries that are linked to international trade agreements and working under companies registered under this treaty. Some visa categories are available under the quota system like the H-2B visa there is a yearly quota of 66,000 visas.
The US economy cannot afford to keep out the migrant workers that the economy desperately needs. It is a probability that the senator’s bill might get rejected. The current H-2B visa scheme allows employers in industries such as nursing, construction, meatpacking, manufacturing and landscaping to hire workers, and has a limit of 66,000 visas per year. Laura Reiff, an attorney from Washington D.C., stated that the current scheme is ignorant of a critical need – that of hiring low-skilled workforce to America when the same cannot be hired in America. The legislative bill, in all probability, might not be passed; however, it will lay the groundwork for better visa schemes in the year 2017.
A recent report published by the Society for Human Resource Management, the largest society for HR professionals that represents 285,000 members across 165 countries, stated that this proposal would:
1) Create a flexible quota for non-agricultural and low-skill workforce between 65,000 and 85,000 per year to support the economy.
2) Create a prerequisite for employers to first hire workforce from the US local markets before utilizing the H-2C visa scheme.
3) Allow immigrant workers to switch employers by letting them work for employers who have tested the resident labor market and have been permitted to hire H-2C workers.
4) Make it mandatory for the H-2C workforce to get screened by the E-verify system of the federal government.
Tamar Jacoby, President and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, a Washington D.C.–based national federation of small business owners who want reforms in immigration, stated that this scheme is more flexible and its market-like proposition will benefit both employers and workers. The proposed scheme relieves employers from the employees’ claims on travel, housing and a fixed number of working hours
that are stipulated by law. The employer can replace a worker with ease and without any legal complications if an H-2C visa holder leaves the company. However Jacoby feels that the current political atmosphere would not allow for a massive guest worker program. Hence, this proposed legislation, if passed, will only find its way to areas where the rate of unemployment is less than 5%.
The scheme will be monitored during its pilot phase for its effect on factors like growth of the economy, status of employment across regions and industries, wages, welfare and government services will be monitored in order to decide its continuity. The bill has been welcomed by many employer associations in industries like health care, construction and poultry that find the great option to fill vacancies that have documented the shortage of workforce, which might get worse if there is no action taken. The US has an aging population and close to 27 million Americans would be eligible for long-term care by the year 2050 with an estimated need of 6.5 million personal care workers, nurses and nursing assistants, as per the reports by the US Department of Labor and Health and Human Services.
Several industry experts said that this move could help the challenges and gaps arising due to a shallow labor pool and high-turnover labor jobs, which is not a popular choice among Americans. The legislation has however been criticized for the negative impact it would have on providing employment opportunities to the existing workforce in America. Take for example, Jessica Vaughan’s (Director – Policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies) reaction to the bill; she stated that it made no sense in hiring workers from overseas when America has thousands of legal immigrants who are unemployed or underemployed and are in desperate need of a job. Jessica further added to her statement by saying that the US does not have any deficit of workers who do not have a college degree and they are the ones who find it difficult to find another job or get a hike in their wages, due to the surplus in workforce due to US’s immigration policies.
Vaughan also critiqued the new legislation for its oversight on issues related to fraud and exploitation of migrant workers citing cases in the past that have made these guest worker programs unpopular.
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