The Senate bill creates a ‘W visa’ for lower-skilled workers with a cap of 20,000 in the first year, and with increases up to 75,000 visas by the 4th year. Thereafter caps would be determined by a formula devised by a new statistical agency called the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research. A W visa would permit a foreign-born worker who is not a permanent resident to perform services or labor for a registered employer in a registered position.

Will these visas be sufficient to have a notable impact on the flow of future unauthorized workers entering the United States?

Will they satisfy demand for workers in a recovering economy?  

Will workers enjoy greater flexibility and choice under this system?

Thinking more broadly about migrant flows and the economy, the annual flow of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico alone was about half a million per year between 2000 and 2005. In subsequent years the numbers declined dramatically, to about 150,000 per year between 2007 and 2010, as a result of the recession of 2007-2009 and increased border security.

Now that we are out of a recession and the U.S. economy is growing at a faster rate than expected, what will be the impact of a likely surge in the demand for workers, combined with the proposed increased penalties for both unauthorized immigrants and employers who hire them?

What new push and pull factors—such as improvements in the Mexican economy—are emerging that may affect the future flow of workers and how might that affect the W visa program?

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  • JOHN_C_C

    I would like to see larger quotas of work visas. We noticed that there was a net out-migration during the first two years of the recent recession, so I don’t think we risk anything by testing the upper limit.

    Since the only worker class among U.S. citizens likely to be hurt by a decrease on local wages (and then only temporarily) by an increase of foreign labor is that of unskilled labor, perhaps the only limit we need is to offer temporary consideration of their needs.

    • Kathy Fennelly

      Research suggests that it is other low skilled immigrants (rather than US-born workers) whose wages may be slightly depressed by an increase of foreign workers. In contrast, there is a slight positive impact on the wages of US-born workers because an influx of immigrants increases opportunities for them to move into supervisory positions, and because of the positive impact on the local economy of increased payment of taxes and demand for new consumer products. Still, an important question raised by John’s comment is how to protect existing workers from unfair competition.

  • fjt

    i would like to see the definition of Agriculture broadened to include the Greenhouse industry. Growers have a couple of types of seasons… there is the growing season which takes place from January until June. Then there is the shipping piece when the greenhouse business ships it’s what has just been grown. Our business has fallen between the cracks making it difficult to hire people for the entire season.

    • Kathy Fennelly

      Good point; the production of fruits, vegetables and horticultural products (FVH) has expanded into a multi-billion dollar industry as Americans consume more fruits, vegetables and nuts, and buy more plants. Horticulture, in particular has lagged other FVH industries in labor-saving innovations, but has suffered the consequences of a shortage of workers and of visas for immigrant laborers.

  • Don Aldridge

    In order to “secure the border” we need to have a workable legal way for low skilled workers to enter the US. The easier it is for these people to enter the US via legal means will obviously impact their willingness to attempt to enter illegally. With this in mind, 20,000 to 75,000 W visas annually is way too low. Instead of capping the visas, I suggest charging employers money for registered positions, say $1,000 to $5,000, and then let the free market work. Perhaps the employer fee could be adjusted based on economic factors, say unemployment rate. If unemployment is low the fee is low. If unemployment is high, the fee is high. In addition to automatically creating a preference for US workers, such a fee could generate billions of dollars to the US Treasury.

    • Kathy Fennelly

      I’d be interested to hear from employers who are reading this blog. Would a charge for registered positions be offset by the advantages of being able to recruit and retain workers with legal status?

  • Kathy Fennelly

    As we have discussed elsewhere in this Wiki, the Senate bill includes a proposal for a “W visa” for immigrants in
    jobs that don’t require high levels of training or education. Immigrants would apply for W visas from U.S.
    embassies and consulates in their home countries; If approved, they and their family members would be granted three-year, renewable work permits.

    There are some protections for both foreign and US workers written into the bill; foreign-born workers must be
    paid the prevailing wage and cannot be employed in metropolitan areas where unemployment is above 8.5%, unless there is a special exemption from the Secretary of Homeland Security. Furthermore, employers cannot fire American workers 90
    days before or after the hiring of guest workers.

    Another provision states that “W-visa holders who are unemployed for 60 days or more would be required to leave the United States.”

    Are the unemployment provisions fair? Is it reasonable to expect immigrant workers to be “continually employed?” or to limit their employment in cities that mandate How will the answers to these questions affect support for the Senate bill and the W visa?