The Case for Reforming U.S. Guest Worker Programs

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Guest worker programs, which bring foreign workers into a country temporarily in order to fill labor shortages,exist in various forms in various countries.  All over the world, workers migrate from less developed countries to more developed ones looking for work—which may or may not turn out to be temporary. Meanwhile, as the movement of guest workers increases across nations, guest workers’ remittances, which support their families—

and their home countries’ economies—continue to grow as a source of hard currency for developing countries.

For all the talk about immigration reform, the United States still lacks a workable guest worker program. In fact, no one can agree on what such a program should look like. America’s current guest worker programs may as well not exist for most workers and employers—and past attempts at reform have gone nowhere.

This paper points out some of the problems that beset America’s existing guest worker programs. It also proposes ways to improve these programs in order to advance the goals of protecting U.S. borders, providing a flexible workforce for employers who cannot find qualified American applicants, and protecting the guest workers themselves against abuse. It also looks at a potential reform model now being tried in a small part of the United States that lies far away from the rest of the country—the Mariana Islands.