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Research: Few Benefits for Workers with Temporary Visas

PHOTO: New research finds most temporary workers from Mexico who get work visas are no better off than those who are undocumented. Photo credit: Bread for the World/Flickr.
PHOTO: New research finds most temporary workers from Mexico who get work visas are no better off than those who are undocumented. Photo credit: Bread for the World/Flickr.
September 2, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa - Immigrants from Mexico can fill the gap where there's a need for agricultural or low-skilled work in Iowa and across the country. But a new study finds there is little benefit for those who legally obtain a temporary worker visa.

Indiana University researcher Lauren Apgar found temporary workers hold jobs with the lowest-occupational standing, and with wages equivalent to those of undocumented workers. Their visa requires they work for the sponsoring employer, which Apgar says prevents advancement.

"Overall, this is really suggesting that temporary workers experience some of the poorest employment outcomes," says Apgar. "Mainly because they cannot experience job mobility and they are limited in their wages."

Apgar says one solution would be to reform the temporary workers' program so visas are issued directly to workers, instead of employers. She says this would make the program more attractive to currently undocumented immigrants.

Changing the visa stipulations, according to Apgar, also could increase protections for temporary workers.

"By not being tied to their employer, workers would not fear losing their visa if they needed to report labor abuses or violations," she says.

Research shows most temporary-work permits issued to Mexican nationals are H-2 visas, for agricultural or non-agricultural, low-skilled work. While her research found changes are needed, Apgar says the temporary-worker program is still important, given the historical migration to the U.S. from Mexico.

"It is fulfilling a need, both in terms of jobs here in the U.S. and for Mexicans that need work. However, without these protections in place, it really worsens labor market conditions for all workers in these types of jobs," says Apgar.

According to the research, there were more than 100,000 additional H-2 visas offered to workers from Mexico in 2013, compared to 1987.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - IA