Magazine piece on guestworkers

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Melanie Orhant (mgo6@cornell.edu)
Tue, 1 Sep 1998 17:45:56 -0500


>
>[For CISNEWS subscribers -- Mark Krikorian]
>
>
>National Review, September 14, 1998
>
>Slave Trade
>Permitting guest workers sounds like the perfect solution to the
>immigration problem. Think again
>
>Mark Krikorian
>(Mark Krikorian is Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies
>in Washington, D.C.)
>
>A bill to substantially increase the number of foreign high-tech workers
>admitted under temporary visas has stumbled in Congress, mainly because of
>divisions among Republicans and a strong veto threat from the White House.
>The House leadership postponed until after the August recess a vote on the
>bill to increase the number of "H-1B" visas for computer programmers and
>other skilled workers by almost 200,000 over five years, from the current
>65,000 a year to 115,000 by 2002. And the bill may simply fade away
>because, in the words of one House Republican staffer, "How many people
>want to vote for 190,000 new foreign workers two months before an election?"
>
>But even if it doesn't become law this year, the implicit model of
>immigration it embodies will be with us for some time. Under this new
>dispensation, "nonimmigrants" (the technical term for those on temporary
>visas) are admitted for long periods of time to work for specific
>employers, without the ability to change the terms of employment or switch
>employers. Though most of today's immigrants are able to participate freely
>in the labor market, the number of captive foreign workers has been growing
>steadily. In 1981, only 44,770 temporary workers and trainees were admitted
>to the United States; by 1990, the number had grown to 139,587, and by
>1996, 227,440. The total number of such workers present at any one time is
>in the hundreds of thousands (both in the visa categories mentioned above
>and in others), and proposals like the H-1B bill would increase that number
>dramatically.
>
>The model which has governed our law for more than a hundred years treated
>immigrants as free workers, able to compete in the labor market. This
>free-worker model of immigration was formally articulated in the Contract
>Labor Law of 1885, which prohibited the importation of aliens under
>contract for the performance of labor or services of any kind. This was a
>reaction to the importation of "coolie" labor from China, a practice which
>itself succeeded the institution of indentured servitude. And it was a
>recognition that the freedom of workers to negotiate wages and working
>conditions and to change jobs is essential to capitalism -- just as
>indentured servitude was a manifestation of pre-capitalist labor relations,
>like vassalage or serfdom.
>
>Today's emerging immigration model harks back to those pre-modern
>arrangements. Like their predeccessors, today's captive workers come
>voluntarily, for the chance of earning more money or settling permanently,
>but they can't strike, can't switch jobs, can't even complain. Some critics
>compare this captive-worker model to slavery, but actually, for employers,
>it's much better than slavery: they don't have to make huge capital
>investments in purchasing workers, nor do they have to feed and clothe the
>guest workers, nor support them in their old age. Employers enjoy the
>benefits of a manorial relationship without the costs.
>
>The bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform was unequivocal in its
>opposition to the captive-worker model of immigration. Commenting on farm
>workers, but with an eye toward all nonimmigrant worker programs, the
>Commission wrote that it "unanimously and strongly agrees that such a
>program would be a grievous mistake. ... Experience has shown that such
>limitations are incompatible with the values of democratic societies
>worldwide."
>
>Today's emerging captive-worker model of immigration has three components:
>
>1. High-tech Braceros: The H-1B visa program was invented in 1990 because
>of congressional panic over a labor shortage which never materialized. The
>program allows for 65,000 temporary visas, good for up to six years, for
>people in "specialty occupations" tied to a specific employer. The captive
>nature of this labor force doesn't start with the H-1B visa. Many of the
>workers arrive on student visas, then extend them for one year to get
>"practical training" (tied to an employer). Only then do they get H-1B visas.
>
>Getting assigned to a different employer is difficult; and since the main
>payoff of an H-1B visa is sponsorship by one's employer for a green card,
>the worker doesn't want to have to start the sponsorship process over by
>switching jobs, possibly dragging things out so long that the temporary
>visa expires first. Once the immigrant acquires a green card, he's free to
>work anywhere he wants, but his period of indenture is long enough for his
>employer to profit handsomely from the arrangement.
>
>So it's no surprise that high-tech companies are pushing for an increase in
>these visas. They could instead have sought the re-allocation of some
>family-based green cards to the employment-based categories. John
>O'Sullivan suggested that policy in these pages ("Silicon Implants," June
>1, 1998) and business could almost certainly get Congress to approve it.
>But computer firms want to prevent job-hopping, and simply increasing the
>number of immigrant programmers won't do that.
>
>2. Keeping Them on the Farm: During every Congress, the indefatigable
>advocates for agribusiness float proposals for new agricultural guestworker
>programs, contending that the existing H-2A program allows too few
>temporary farmworkers to enter the country (the figure is around 20,000 per
>year). In July, these advocates finally go the Senate to approve a new
>program with neither numerical limits nor worker protections.
>
>Farmers perennially claim that if they did not have either illegal aliens
>or captive guest workers, crops would rot in the fields and American
>agriculture would implode. Guest-worker programs thus become the only
>honorable means of producing food. But most agricultural economists agree
>that American agriculture could survive, indeed thrive, without illegal
>workers or captive guest workers. While some marginal producers would go
>under, the industry as a whole would adapt and become stronger, as the
>smaller labor force became more stable (because of better pay and benefits)
>and more productive (through more efficient use of labor and more extensive
>mechanization). In any case, labor costs account for a very small portion
>of the retail price of produce.
>
>3. Kuwait in the Pacific: The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
>(CNMI) offers the most sobering look at the development of the
>captive-worker model of immigration. The United States granted commonwealth
>status to the islands in 1986, part of the deal being that the CNMI would
>control immigration in order to protect the native culture.
>
>Instead, the local administration has used this authority to import a
>turnkey garment industry staffed entirely by guest workers. These Chinese,
>Filipinos, and others now number 35,000, compared to only 25,000 U.S.
>citizens. The captive workers are subjected to all the indignities one
>would expect, including withholding of pay, sexual exploitation, coerced
>abortions -- the Chinese are even prohibited by their contracts from going
>to church. The natives, meanwhile, are almost entirely employed by the
>government or on welfare. Foreigners account for more than 90 percent of
>the private-sector workforce. The only comparable examples in the world are
>Persian Gulf dictatorships like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
>
>Many Republican congressmen have resisted a Clinton Administration
>initiative to extend U.S. immigration and labor laws to the islands. This
>would make sense if a conservative alternative, like independence, were
>also on the table. But many conservative lawmakers, staffers, and
>journalists have touted the islands as a "phenomenal economic success" and
>an "experimental laboratory of liberty," as if the CNMI were Hong Kong with
>coconut trees instead of Kuwait without oil.
>
>There are plenty of reasons to oppose mass immigration of any kind. But
>even if there were a need for foreign workers, importing indentured
>servants would not be the way to do it. Proponents of captive-worker
>immigration forget the first principle of a free society: all of us,
>including immigrants, are human beings, created in the image of God, not
>mere factors of production to be used and discarded. (After the failure of
>Germany's guest-worker program, one writer lamented, "We asked for workers,
>but they sent us men.")
>
>Conservatives cannot applaud the emerging consensus among GOP lawmakers:
>pro-immigration, anti-immigrant.
>
>###
>
>
>------------------------------------------
>Mark Krikorian, executive director
>Center for Immigration Studies
>1522 K St. N.W., Suite 820, Washington, DC 20005
>(202) 466-8185 (202) 466-8076, fax
>msk@cis.org http://www.cis.org/
>------------------------------------------
>


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