December 16, 2001

Even though foreign guest workers represent just a tiny fraction of the overall civilian workforce, they contribute a significant amount to America's economy. As the Bush administration and Congress respond to national security concerns, public policy should focus on making the visa application process more effective and less difficult to use, according to a new Policy Backgrounder by the Employment Policy Foundation (EPF).

"In the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy, the federal government is rightfully weighing the demand for foreign guest workers against the need for better security," said EPF President Ed Potter. "Improved screening and tracking of guest workers should be accomplished in a manner that does not make the programs more cumbersome or the costs higher."

Although no official government statistics are kept on the number of foreign guest workers in the United States, EPF research shows there are about 970,045 such foreign residents currently working in the country, Potter said. Only one out of every 146 employees in America is a guest worker, but they contribute $82 billion (8 percent) annually to the nation's gross domestic product. From the output generated by guest workers, more than 65 percent (about $54 billion) is generated by those holding H-1B visas, a class of visas reserved for highly trained foreign workers who meet strict eligibility requirements.

Obtaining a guest worker visa involves three separate government agencies and navigating a significant amount of bureaucracy, Potter said. EPF analysis of immigration data shows that the private sector spends $565 million annually to have visas approved. In the case of H1-B visas, $546 million is spent - about $4,093 per hired guest worker.

The Office of Management and Budget recently issued a report that identified a number of burdensome regulations that should be reviewed by Congress. One of them was the certification procedures for foreign guest worker applications. "Clearly, greater scrutiny should be given to current and future guest workers, but in a manner that addresses fundamental labor supply and demand realities," Potter said.

Beside H-1B visas, EPF's analysis covers four other types of visas issued by the United States: H-2, H-3, L-1 and O-1. The H-2 program includes both seasonal agricultural workers using H-2A visas and seasonal non-agricultural workers using H-2B visas. The H-3 program is reserved for international trainees, the L-1 program is for intra-company transferees employed by multinational corporations and the O-1 program is intended for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in the arts, sciences, education or business.

EPF's Policy Backgrounder CLICK below (Adobe Acrobat required):

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