Guestworker Programs: Can They Ever Work as Advertised?

Parsing Immigration Policy, Episode 119

By Mark Krikorian and David North on August 24, 2023

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Summary

Congress created the first guestworker programs to fill labor shortages on a temporary basis, without displacing American workers or abusing the foreign workers.

Over time, the programs have multiplied and expanded, such that now close to a million people a year are imported for both less-skilled and professional-level jobs. American workers are, in fact, displaced, the “temporary” foreign workers often stay permanently, and are often exploited. Is it possible for guestworker programs to work as Congress intended?

In this week’s episode of Parsing Immigration Policy, David North, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, joins host Mark Krikorian, North’s experience with the foreign worker issue dates back to the Eisenhower administration. He says the primary question regarding guestworker policies is whether government policy should make it easier for employers to meet their labor needs by importing labor from outside the U.S.

The easiest solution would be for Congress to abolish some or all guestworker programs. Noting that this is unlikely to occur, North and Krikorian discuss whether lawmakers have prioritized the guestworker issue sufficiently to ensure that reforms that would guarantee fairness to American workers, such as requiring employers to make a positive effort to hire American workers before recruiting foreign labor. North suggests reforms that would improve the chances that Americans are not pushed out of the workforce, foreign workers are not abused, and the programs are genuinely temporary.

In his closing commentary, Krikorian highlights a new report from the Center relevant to the foreign-worker debate. “Working-Age, but Not Working” examines the long-term decline of U.S.-born, working-age men in the labor force, particularly among those without a bachelor’s degree. This large population of U.S.-born individuals on the sidelines of the labor market contributes to a host of social problems, but the availability of cheap immigrant labor allows employers, and society at large, to ignore their plight and not invest in bringing them into the labor market.

Host

Mark Krikorian is the Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Guest

David North is a Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Related

Working-Age, but Not Working

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Intro Montage

Voices in the opening montage:

  • Sen. Barack Obama at a 2005 press conference.
  • Sen. John McCain in a 2010 election ad.
  • President Lyndon Johnson, upon signing the 1965 Immigration Act.
  • Booker T. Washington, reading in 1908 from his 1895 Atlanta Exposition speech.
  • Laraine Newman as a "Conehead" on SNL in 1977.
  • Hillary Clinton in a 2003 radio interview.
  • Cesar Chavez in a 1974 interview.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking to reporters in 2019.
  • Prof. George Borjas in a 2016 C-SPAN appearance.
  • Sen. Jeff Sessions in 2008 comments on the Senate floor.
  • Charlton Heston in "Planet of the Apes".