Approximately 8 to 10 million undocumented people live and work in the United States. Many have risked nearly everything they have to come to this country in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Unable to work lawfully, they are often forced to take jobs that expose them to exploitation and discrimination.
With the goal of bringing these “hard-working immigrants out of the shadows,” Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn has proposed a major piece of legislation that would create a new visa category for guest workers. His bill, called the “Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2003,” was presented on July 10, 2003.
Senator Cornyn’s proposed legislation would create a new W visa for immigrants to work in the United States under protection of a law as well as prevent smuggling and exploitation of those wanting to come to the United States for work. The guest worker visa would be available to immigrants from all countries provided their home country has agreed to participate in the program. Guest workers would be granted legal status to remain in the United States for up to three years, during which time they are free to travel back and forth to their home countries. Spouses and minor children can accompany the principal applicant to the United States as well.
There are four elements to the guest worker program: 1) job opportunities in the United States will be found in cooperation with the participating country; 2) the guest workers would be admitted to the United States to fill those jobs; 3) the work would be performed either on a seasonal (not more than 270 days in a calendar year) or non-seasonal basis; and 4) the guest worker must return to their country before the expiration of the period of authorized stay. Once the guest worker has worked in the United States for three years, they will be given priority to apply for lawful permanent resident status. At this point, the legislation only permits the guest worker to apply for Lawful Permanent Resident status when they have returned to their country.
The guest worker program is not to be confused with an amnesty, according to Senator Cornyn, since the program does not allow them to remain here permanently. However, those already present in the United States in violation of the immigration laws may apply for guest worker status without penalties so long as they enroll within one year of the program’s enactment.
Although Senator Cornyn expects to face resistance to the bill in Congress, he is emphasizing that his legislation enhances homeland security because it provides an orderly system for workers to come to the United States as well as accounting for those hard-working immigrants already in the country who pose no threat to security.
No doubt, Senator Cornyn’s guest worker bill is the beginning of a long legalization battle, however it is only a matter of time before such a bill becomes law.