When immigration comes up in Washington, politicians either politely ignore the issue or engage in lively debate on how best to punish and get rid of undocumented workers. Yet lawmakers give a strikingly warm embrace to certain types of immigrants. Those are the “legal” ones who enter with special visas under the pretext of having special skills or filling certain labor shortages–like Silicon Valley tech jobs or seasonal blueberry harvesting. So what makes one kind of immigrant valuable and another kind criminal?
So-called guestworker programs attest to the arbitrary politics of immigration that has generated a perfectly legal, global traffic in migrant labor. A new report by the advocacy group Global Workers Justice Alliance reveals how various federal visa programs funnel workers into special high-demand sectors, like amusement park staff or computer programmers. Like their “illegal” counterparts, these workers are inherently disempowered: they may be dependent on employers for legal status in the U.S., have their wages regularly stolen, or suffer sexual or physical abuse. Many lack the access to the health care and overtime pay that citizen workers often take for granted. As products of globalization, they’re sometimes compelled to endure virtual indentured servitude to provide critical wage remittances to their families back home.
The economic logic is simple, according to the report: externalize the costs to those who can’t afford to challenge authority.
Especially of note are the visas outside Department of Labor supervision. Under these visas, workers who enter are structurally cheaper than U.S. workers, because employers are legally exempted from certain payroll taxes, legally able to pay wages lower than fair market wages, and/or legally empowered to pass on many basic costs associated with employment – such as transportation, visa fees, housing and more – to the workers.
Companies can also outsource unscrupulous labor practices to third-party manpower agencies, which are known to recruit workers with deceptive job advertising or discriminate against female job applicants. Read the rest of this entry →