Guest worker programs have proved to be incredibly contentious elements to the national debate over immigration.
The guest worker issue has a particular relevance for North Carolina, given that the North Carolina Growers Association uses H-2A visas, which allow foreign workers to come to the United States for a maximum of 10 months per year, more than any other entity in the country, according to WRAL.
Guest worker programs can pose many problems and reforms must be made if they are to have any part in a larger immigration settlement.
Employers often complain of the difficulty and cost associated with the process of applying for and securing visas. The North Carolina Growers Association charges a $1,000 fee to help secure workers and bring them into the country, where workers brought in through this process may work at multiple farms – an arrangement that saves farmers more money than if they filed individually – according to WRAL.
Guest worker programs have the additional problem of creating often inhumane conditions for those foreign workers who participate. A December 2013 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center documents the numerous cases of abuse within the program, among them violations of wage and hour regulations, intimidation of workers and violation of contracts employers make with workers.
Many of these actions are illegal, according to both federal law as well as the conditions set forth with the programs. Foreign workers are covered by wage laws that require that they be paid the prevailing wage and provided adequate housing if the worker cannot secure housing on their own, in addition to other protections.
The workers involved in these programs are among the most vulnerable in the country. The fact that they are foreign and their employment is often contingent on one employer shows that the power balance becomes tilted clearly in favor of the employer.
Our government has allowed these workers to come here temporarily to work, and while they are here the government is obligated to see that the workers are protected.
And as our government works toward some type of immigration reform, we should be sure to keep the guest worker program in mind.
If the U.S. is going to continue using the guest worker program, the government must ensure that the workers are treated justly.
Griffin, a sophomore journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.