January 13, 2009 | Backgrounder on Immigration
Temporary worker programs can be a helpful tool for improving the legal means by which a foreigner can come to the United States to work. Previously proposed temporary worker programs have been problematic. Any new temporary worker programs must help, not hinder, immigration reform and border security efforts. Temporary worker programs should be designed not as a substitute for amnesty, but to fill important niches in the national workforce, allowing employers the employees they need to help grow the economy and create more jobs for Americans.
In addition, a new temporary worker program can only be successful if there is a clear strategy for implementation. Based on past experience, the right answer is to start with a pilot program that fills the gaps in existing programs and creates incentives for lawful non-immigrant work in the U.S. instead of illegal presence. An effective pilot program should also pioneer measures to strengthen security and combat illegal immigration.
The Path to True Immigration Reform
No single aspect of immigration reform, whether workplace enforcement or border security, will solve the problem of the nation's broken borders. The federal government has failed in one of its basic functions to control who enters the country, and has no accountability for those already in the U.S. A snapshot of the immigration crisis in America shows approximately 11 million illegal aliens living in the country, and continuing demand by some employersfor an illegal, shadow workforce. Successful immigration reform will require a strategy that includes:
Elements of a Temporary Work Visa
Improving the legal options for immigrants is a crucial part of immigration reform and includes reforming programs for existing visas, such as the H-2A, as well as creating new and innovative temporary worker programs. Ideally, any temporary worker program should accomplish the following: meet the needs of the users, ensure the security of the American public, and respect the rule of law and sovereignty of the United States. Any new program must not exacerbate the illegal immigration problem, and thus should include these basic elements:
Creating New Methods
Having the right elements does not guarantee success. The downfall of our immigration system has largely been due to lack of implementation ofimmigration laws in the workplace. Proper implementation is vital to a successful temporary worker program. Implementation strategy will determine whether or not a temporary worker program will succeed.
In order to establish new temporary worker programs, the federal government must demonstrate that it is already successfully implementing measures for internal law enforcement and border security. Identity documents should be made secure by provisions, such as REAL ID, and a workplace enforcement system, such as E-Verify, should be fully funded. New infrastructure and security provisions for the temporary worker program should be implemented before granting visas. This includes the biometric registry database and biometric card, an exit system, and the sharing of criminal information with participating countries.
Temporary worker programs should not replace existing visa programs. Existing programs cater to a significant-sized population, and there is an established process. These programs should be improved and streamlined.
Reforms to existing programs alone will not be enough. As these reforms are implemented, remaining shortfalls will become more apparent. A temporary worker program should be created to employ new methods and to fill the gaps that reformed visa programs still cannot address. A temporary worker program should start as a pilot test.
Benchmarks for expansion should be set for the pilot test. For example, there should be a maximum rate of overstays in the program, which the pilot program cannot exceed.
The American people know that current immigration policy falls short. A temporary worker program is a small piece of immigration policy's complicated puzzle, and needs to help, not hinder, the ability of the American government to keep its citizens safe. Above all, a successful temporary worker program should protect national security, ensure the rule of law, and protect American sovereignty. Congress and the Obama Administration would do well to follow the components outlined here.
Rather than repeat Congress's failed strategy of "comprehensive" immigration reform--a self-serving attempt to pass an ineffective bill bloated with appeasements for every special-interest group -- Congress and the Administration should implement a serious step-by-step strategy to immigration and border-security reform that begins with:
These are the right steps for serious immigration and border security reform.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
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Needs Reforms," Latin Business Chronicle, June 3, 2008, at
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The Visa Waiver Program is a good model of
such bilateral agreements. In order for countries to become members
of the visa waiver program, they must first meet a number of
criteria and sign agreements with the United States that include
security cooperation, such as sharing lost and stolen passport
information. See James Jay Carafano, "Visa-Waiver Reform Can Make
America More Secure," The Examiner, May 24, 2007, at http://www.examiner.com/a-745367~James_Jay_Carafano__Visa _waiver _reform_ca
n_make_America_more_secure.html (January 7, 2009).