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Week of 5.26.06

FAQ About Guest Workers

What is a guest worker?

Guest workers, also known as temporary workers, are non-immigrants who are admitted to the U.S., often for a considerable amount of time. Under some visa programs they are unable to switch employers.

Does America currently have a guest worker program?

Yes, through a number of visa programs such as a seasonal guest worker programs, which allow foreigners to come into the U.S., often for a maximum of one year. There is also a similar guest worker program designed specifically for the agriculture industry.

The number of such temporary guest workers in the U.S. is estimated to be approximately 120,000, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

For specialty occupations, such as engineering, visas are offered for longer terms, usually for up six years. There is a cap of 66,000 such visas issued annually. There is also a program that allows employees working for a parent or subsidiary of a U.S. company in a foreign country to transfer to the U.S.

Are foreign workers obliged to pay taxes?


Have we tried guest worker programs in the past?

Yes. The Bracero Program, initiated in 1942, was an agreement between the U.S. and Mexican governments that permitted Mexican citizens to take temporary agricultural work in the U.S. It came about as a result of a shortage of manpower created by World War II. By the time the program ended more than 4.5 million Mexican citizens were legally hired for work in the U.S., primarily in Texas and California. The program was ended in 1964 partly as a response to harsh criticisms and reports of human rights abuses.

More on the Bracero Program is available from the University of California and the Bracero History Project

Related Resources:

Center for Immigration Studies: "New Poll: Americans Prefer House Approach on Immigration," May 3, 2006

The White House: Televised Oval Office speech by President George W. Bush on illegal immigration, May 15, 2006

The Sacramento Bee: "Forest guest workers tell of abuses," May 19, 2006

Southern Poverty Law Center: "Center documents abuse of migrant forestry workers," May 16, 2006

Texas Rio Grande Legal Aide

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