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Help the economy and calm the borders? Expand the Guest Worker Program

Winter 2022

According to San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President, Mary C. Daly, job openings today far exceed the number of people applying for positions, and wages are climbing briskly. Lack of workers constrains our economy. Nearly every nursing home and assisted living facility is experiencing staff shortages. Child Care, trucking, and hospitality bemoan the difficulty of finding caring and courteous staff. Our economy is close to full employment. According to the New York Times, Federal officials expect the jobless rate to drop from the current 4.2% to 3.5%.

At the same time, we’ve seen photos of people trying desperately to get across our borders to improve their lives. Why not let some in- not illegally and not as citizens, but as guest workers?

US guest worker programs started in 1942, during World War II. With so many US workers involved in the war effort, we needed help. Mexicans picked crops and tended the soil in the US. The program peaked at around 450,000 annually in 1958. Labor unions were against the program. In 1964, it ended.

Currently, there are two programs for guest workers, H2A for agricultural workers and H2B for nonagricultural.  In 2020, a total of 213,000 agricultural workers and 65,000 nonagricultural workers came into the U.S. under the program. Our landscaper has applied for several years for Mexican workers, under the H2B program, but has not gotten as many workers as he requested. There are companies that help employers with the paperwork and regulations. These workers are legal, pay taxes, and return home.  The money they earn in the US might be 5 times what they earn in Mexico.

President Biden just announced that an additional 20,000 H2B workers will be allowed into the US for the coming months. A drawback of the current program is the maximum stay of 10 months.

Germany needed workers in the 1960s.  They started a guest worker program with Turkey, and eventually hundreds of thousands came. They worked as coal miners and other least desirable jobs.  Maximum stay was two years, but it was found to be too expensive and time consuming to have workers return and to retrain new workers, so the maximum was extended to 4 years. It was mostly men who sent money home. Eventually, they were allowed to bring their families. In the end, about half of the workers stayed in Germany, and half returned to Turkey.

There always seems to be someone against everything – and an expanded guest worker program would be no exception. However, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Solving worker shortages would help our nation. Workers sending home money to poor countries could help families there build flourishing lives. Why not have extra hands available here to grow our economy while at the same time help someone who wants to work?

Happy New Year!


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