Survey of Immigration Experts–Designing a Better Work Visa

Friday, November 14, 2014
Image credit: 
banarfilardhi, iStock

A survey of immigration experts at US universities and think tanks was conducted during August 25–September 5, 2014.  Thirty-five individuals responded. The main topic was temporary guest worker visas. Additional questions were included that addressed two issues in the news: President Obama’s threatened use of executive action to change policy instead of working with legislation and the surge of unaccompanied children from Central America arriving at the US borders and claiming asylum as victims of human trafficking.

The nonpartisan panel of experts does not favor executive action. Only 31 percent think such action is necessary because of the congressional gridlock – the president’s justification – while 11 percent think it is an effective way to change policy.  Half the respondents think such action establishes a dangerous precedent. It is worth noting that this same panel of experts largely favors greater levels of immigration to the United States for high-skill and low-skill migrants.

Of the sixty million visa entries per year to the United States, three million are on temporary work visas, including the H-1B for high-skill jobs, H-2A for seasonal low-skill agricultural jobs, and H-2B for low-skill nonagricultural jobs. Each of those programs is regulated, and most experts believe the rules and regulations hamper the economic gains of temporary work. For example, the H-2A program has no limit on the number of foreign workers allowed, but the actual number of visas issued is constrained due to the amount of paperwork and time required for compliance.

Although recent legislation considered by the US Congress for comprehensive immigration reform included provisions that would significantly revise US work visas, the complexity of Senate bill S.744 was a key factor in its demise. A new W-visa would have been created, one that would have allowed migrant guest workers to take jobs that were low-skill and, for the first time, year-round rather than merely seasonal. Another key component of the W-visa was portability, which would have allowed migrants to change employers inside the United States. The lack of portability is one of the major criticisms of older approaches, namely, the Bracero program, which was active from 1942 to 1964 and allowed 450,000 guest workers at its peak in the mid-1950s. A more troubling aspect of the W-visa was that it included onerous compliance regulations for any US employer that might have tried to hire a migrant. For example, the nonimpact and nondisplacement rules were only supported by a small percentage of experts in our survey (see below).

Public wariness about the negative economic impact of guest workers is unwarranted according to our surveyed experts. Although 80 percent of respondents agree that low-skill work visas reduce the wages of some Americans in the short term, less than half that many respondents think the effect is long-term, and 83 percent of the panelists do not agree that jobs for American workers are crowded out.

There is widespread agreement among the immigration experts we surveyed that an “expanded and more efficient US guest worker program for all skill levels” would have a positive impact five years after enactment by increasing US gross domestic product, increasing net exports, decreasing illegal border crossings, and decreasing the number of undocumented immigrants. The consensus on these likely outcomes is overwhelming, which begs the question of what components should Congress include in a more “efficient” work visa program?

Based on the results of our survey, a new work visa would be open to all skill levels, and should have some numerical limit for low-skill workers, perhaps set by establishing a significant visa fee that would be paid by employers and act as revenue for state and local governments. In exchange for visa pricing that would set a natural equilibrium cap on the number of migrant workers, experts strongly recommend slashing the regulatory compliance that employers face. High-skill workers should be allowed in without limits. E-verify should be mandatory for all employers in all states (it is currently mandatory in just a few states and optional elsewhere). Finally, access to welfare programs should not be granted to migrant workers. In addition, there are some ideas which do not have consensus expert support and might be better suited for state-by-state experimentation, such as allowing spouses to work and charging a penalty fee to employers or migrants or both when workers overstay their work term.

 

Regarding low-skill work visas, what are the net effects of increasing the supply of temporary immigrant workers to the United States? (Check all that apply):

N

Percent

Crowds out net job opportunities for American workers.

6

17%

Reduces equilibrium wages for SOME American workers in the SHORT term.

28

80%

Reduces equilibrium wages for ALL American workers in the SHORT term.

1

3%

Reduces equilibrium wages for SOME American workers in the LONG term.

12

34%

None of the above.

5

14%

 

 

What would the likely effects be of an expanded and more efficient US guest worker program for all skill levels five years after enactment? 

Strongly Increase

Increase

Neutral

Decrease

Strongly Decrease

US GDP

3%

91%

6%

0%

0%

US Net Exports

0%

51%

43%

3%

0%

Unemployment among American workers

3%

14%

69%

14%

0%

Illegal crossings along US.borders.

3%

9%

9%

60%

20%

Number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States

3%

9%

17%

60%

11%

 

 

Do you think immigration in general, and temporary work visas in particular, should be allowed to increase during years when the US economy is expanding and decreased when it is in recession? (Check all that apply)

N

Percent

Yes, because immigrants increase labor supply in the short term, which can lower equilibrium wages.

10

29%

Yes, because the voting public is sensitive to the claim of immigrants taking jobs.

11

31%

Neutral / Not sure.

7

20%

No, because immigrants enhance aggregate demand.

6

17%

No, because this policy reinforces false public perceptions of immigrants hurting the economy.

10

29%

 

 

 

 

 

If the United States were to develop a new visa program for temporary immigrant workers, which features would you recommend?

N

Percent

Portable visas that allow migrant workers to change US employers during term.

34

97%

Allow migrant's immediate family members to work in the United States during term.

21

60%

Individual penalty for overstaying includes denial of future US citizenship.

18

51%

Bond paid by the employer (e.g., $10,000), and forfeit if migrant worker overstays term.

17

49%

No automatic citizenship for children of temporary workers born in the United States during term.

14

40%

Unlimited number of temporary work visas.

12

34%

Work visa is conditional on employer certifying inability to find & hire a US citizen.

7

20%

Employer must guarantee nondisplacement of any of its US employees.

5

14%

Welfare access for migrant workers and families (e.g., food stamps, subsidies, EITC).

2

6%

 

 

 

Please evaluate each of the ideas described above using the following scale.

Agree Strongly

Agree

Disagree

Disagree Strongly

Reduce H-2 visa bureaucracy

63%

23%

6%

9%

Unlimited high-skill work visas

51%

14%

26%

9%

Increase H-2B visa cap

47%

32%

9%

12%

Mandatory national E-verify

36%

36%

12%

15%

Visa pricing

19%

42%

29%

10%

Allied work visas

18%

27%

39%

15%

 

 

In recent months, President Obama has promised to take additional executive actions to further immigration reform if Congress fails to act. What do you think of this? (Check all that apply)

N

Percent

Establishes a dangerous precedent.

17

49%

Unconstitutional usurpation of legislative power.

12

34%

Necessary because of congressional gridlock.

11

31%

The fault of Republican partisanship.

11

31%

The fault of Democratic partisanship.

7

20%

Effective way to change policy.

4

11%

 

 

During the summer of 2014, the surge of unaccompanied children from Central America arriving at the border and claiming asylum as victims of human trafficking revealed a crisis years in the making. What do you think are causes of the surge?

N

Percent

Violence in source countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

25

71%

The 2008 law that allowed shelter for victims of human trafficking in the United States.

20

57%

President Obama's June 15, 2012, DACA executive memorandum directing the federal government not to deport some classes of illegal immigrant children.

20

57%

The Obama administration's lack of attention to the growing crisis over the last five years.

16

46%

Allowing entry to children at the border who are clearly not being trafficked.

15

43%

Immigrants who are not complying with court appearances and becoming illegal residents.

7

20%

The House and Senate's unwillingness to provide adequate funding.

0

0%

 

 

 

 

What is your political party affiliation? (optional)

 

N

Republican

 

8

Democrat

 

5

Independent

 

11

Other / No Response

 

11