The Corner

Guest Workers

I am always left baffled by earnest calls for guest worker programs, like the one on our main site today by Mallory Factor.

Here are current U.S. visa categories. On a quick count, I made the tally 81, of which at least a dozen are for temporary workers of one kind or another.

Apparently Mallory Factor thinks the list is missing something important — that some category of temporary worker is left unaddressed. Could he tell us what category that is?

Could Mallory also explain how he — or anybody — knows what the requirements for immigrant labor are, in an environment where immigration attorneys hold seminars (like this one) on how employers can game U.S. immigration law in order to bypass American workers for cheaper foreign ones? What happened to the principle, which I thought was taught in introductory Economics courses, that there is no such thing as a shortage, of labor or anything else, only a clearing price?

This passage in Mallory’s column also puzzled me:

a new guest-worker program can solve the problems of employers who need seasonal labor, even as it helps Mexico address its serious economic and social problems

Does encouraging Mexico to export its unskilled workers really “help Mexico address” those problems? Doesn’t it actually rather help Mexico to continue to ignore those problems? And why, in any case, are those problems any concern of ours? Don’t we have enough problems of our own to deal with? Is Mexico, or anybody, doing anything to help us with our economic and social problems?

Oh, and then this:

In the 1940s, the U.S. faced labor shortages in agriculture stemming from World War II. The government established the bracero program, which allowed hundreds of thousands of Mexican migrants to enter the country as seasonal laborers. The result was a 95 percent drop in illegal border crossings … The program … was phased out in the 1960s amid opposition from labor unions … A guest-worker program today could have the same beneficial effects …

If the labor shortages being addressed stemmed from World War II, why should they not have been phased out when the emergency was over? Why did it take as late as the 1960s to phase them out? And why would labor unions not have objected to an emergency program for foreign labor having been continued long after the emergency was over? Does Mallory think the opposition of the labor unions was ill-founded? Ill-founded how?

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