This weekend, the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce reached an agreement on how to address the future flow of non-agricultural guest workers in construction, janitorial work, and hospitality.
The agreement helps immigrant workers by providing additional protections and independence through a new visa program. Unlike the H-2B visa, workers would not be wholly dependent on their employers to remain in the U.S. And the new system also allows workers to petition for permanent residency.
One of the shortcomings of the current guest worker system is that it rewards poor employer practices, according to AFL-CIO. Guest worker lawsuits spotlight the range of abuse and exploitation: For example, separate lawsuits alleged H-2B visa-holders were cheated out of fair wages and subjected to “slave-like conditions.” The W-visa allows for workers to look for a new employment without having their visa revoked, and the AFL-CIO-Chamber deal also creates certification for foreign labor recruiters in order to cut down on the extortion of applicants.
A new Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Conditions, part of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, will determine the number of these visas based on the state of the economy — the unemployment rate, the number of job openings for American searching for work, and the number of visas requested the previous year — after year five. Workers will be paid either the wage level for U.S.-born workers with similar experience or “prevailing industry wage,” a similar system to the previous guest worker program.
Starting at a minimum of 20,000 visas in year one (2015), the program will gradually increase to 75,000 visas in year four. Then, the new bureau will adjust the number of visas depending on the economy. Capped at 200,000, a third of the visas will be reserved for small businesses with fewer than 25 employees, with visas for the construction industry limited to at most 15,000 per year.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka characterized the agreement as “a new model, a modern visa system that includes both a bureau to collect and analyze labor market data, as well as significant worker protections.” Slate’s Matt Yglesias writes that the deal is, overall, a win for labor.