Policy Analysis No. 719

How to Make Guest Worker Visas Work

President Obama and a bipartisan group of eight senators have begun to push for immigration reform. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) likewise said he supports an immigration overhaul as a “top priority” for 2013. The Texas Republican Party even called for an expanded and effective guest worker visa program to link American employers with skilled and low-skilled foreign workers.

The three components of politically feasible immigration reform are legalization for some unauthorized immigrants, border and workplace enforcement to impede the entry and hiring of unauthorized immigrants, and increased numbers of guest workers and legal immigrants. The costs and benefits of legalization, security, and employee verification have been debated elsewhere in detail but the costs and benefits of guest worker visas and how to create them have not been similarly explored.

An expanded and lightly regulated guest worker visa program is an essential part of any immigration reform proposal. A guest worker visa program should efficiently link foreign workers with American employers and function with a minimum of government interference. Market forces as well as security, criminal, and health concerns should be the factors that determine which workers acquire visas. A successful guest worker visa would also divert most unauthorized immigration into the legal system, shrink the informal economy, be easily enforceable, support economic growth in the United States, and narrow the government’s role in immigration. Below are numerous suggestions that would achieve such reform and expand America’s current guest worker visa programs.

Alex Nowrasteh is an immigration policy analyst with the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute.