2004 February 07 Saturday
Thinking About Bush's Less Than Half-Baked Worker Permit Proposal

George W. Bush's proposal for foreign temporary worker work permits has angered many conservatives for good reason. What follows is an examination of some salient characteristics and motivations of present and future illegal aliens, the ways the illegals differ (on average) from the much larger set of people who, under Bush's proposal, would seek to come in on legal temporary work permits. Also, the employers of illegal aliens and the potential employers of the proposed temporary workers are compared to highlight how they differ in their characteristics and motivations. This examination demonstrates why the implementation of Bush's proposal would not stop the on-going influx of illegal aliens or cause the expulsion of illegals who are already in the United States. Bush's proposal does not solve any problems related to immigration and instead makes America's existing immigration problems even worse. To summarize my argument:

  • The factors that separate out current illegals from those who are currently unwilling or unable to come to work in the US illegally will continue to cause current illegals to behave differently from those who would come under legal temporary work permits.
  • Work permits will effectively expand the potential pool of foreign labor by orders of magnitude. The willingness to work for lower wages will give foreigners a competitive advantage over Americans for existing jobs.
  • Many and probably most work permit jobs would go to people who are not now illegals and who would never become illegals in the absence of Bush's temporary work permit program. This will leave many existing illegals still looking for illegal work.
  • Much of the work currently done by illegals will continue to be done by illegals as long as illegals can get into and stay in the United States. Even if Bush's proposal is enacted some employers will still have economic motives to use illegals.
  • Many who would come as legals under the Bush plan would turn into illegals once their work permit expires.
  • Many jobs not now taken by foreigners will be taken by foreigners once foreign temporary workers can be hired legally in much greater numbers.

The Bush Administration's temporary worker permit program is being presented as an alternative to the current large wave of illegal immigration and to the presence of millions of illegal aliens in our midst. What follows is an argument for why the opposite is the case. A temporary or guest worker program will not prevent illegal aliens from crossing the border. It will not eliminate the incentive for millions to cross the border. It will not eliminate many incentives for employers to hire illegals.

Think about it from the perspective of a potential illegal alien and think about the reasons why a potential illegal immigrant may still opt to enter illegally in the face of a US federal temporary worker permit system.

  • Many who are willing to come to the US illegally will find it easier to come and search for a job than to find advertisements for legal temporary jobs for foreigners. A job offer from an American employer approved by the US government has to have a way to come to the attention of the potential foreign worker. If the job is advertised on the internet (as the Bush Administration has suggested) what is the likelihood that a Mexican with only a grade school education (typical immigrant from Mexico btw) is going to have the resources to find it? If it is advertised in a newspaper what are the odds it will be in a newspaper that the prospective illegal reads?
  • Not all jobs approved by the US government for advertisement to foreigners will be good matches for typical illegals. The prospective illegal has to be a good match for the job approved by the US government. The US government will not approve foreign temporary worker permits for every single job that current and illegals illegals fill. At the same time, the government will inevitably approve foreign temps for higher skilled jobs that typical illegals (who are far less educated and skilled) are not qualified to do.
  • Some illegals will be disqualified from a temporary worker permit by their own record. Some current and future illegals have criminal records or other factors in their past that will disqualify them for a temporary work permit in the United States.
  • The temporary nature of the work permit will be a disincentive for some who come illegally. If a person comes in on a temporary work visa the US government will probably take pictures, fingerprints, and other information for permanent records useful for identifying that person in the future. If someone wants to come and work in the US for many more years the advantage of never showing up in the legal system is that the government doesn't know the person exists to even try for deportation in the first place. In the minds of some illegals it may make sense to never show up in the system or to show up with a fake American citizen identity.
  • Many illegals do not trust governments and avoid them instinctively. Most come from countries that have corrupt governments after all. Some will shun government contact entirely unless the benefit of doing so is expected to be permanent residency.
  • An illegal can leave a job more easily than a legal temp worker. If a temp worker permit is for a particular employer then the permit that provides legal work status ties that employee to that employer. The illegal has greater freedom to quit a job than a foreign legal temp worker. A temporary work permit for a particular job effectively makes a temporary worker into a serf with two legal choices: either serve that one employer regardless of the employer's demands or go back to their home country. Some illegals are going to decide to continue to be illegal rather than become a serf.

The people who are now willing to cross over borders to illegally enter the United States would, under the Bush Administration proposal, be faced with competition from workers who are currently unwilling or unable to cross borders illegally to seek jobs in the United States. With a legal program to bring in temporary workers the applications would flood in from Argentina, Chile, India, Bangladesh, China, and many other countries. Hundreds of millions of people would compete for the jobs. Think about it from the perspective of someone who is reluctant to attempt illegal entry into the United States or who simply lacks the resources to make it into the United States illegally. Here are some factors that make some people far more likely than others to illegally enter into the United States:

  • Propinquity. The people who are most likely to become illegals are living close to the United States. They are already living in Mexico or some other country fairly close to the US. Hence it is easy for them to try illegal entry than those in more distant contries.
  • Willingness to take risks. One must be willing to brave the dangers of an illegal border crossing and other risks inherent to a life as an illegal. Not all the people in other countries are willing to do so.
  • Willingness to break laws. Not every person in a less developed country is willing to violate US law to enter the United States illegally.
  • Stamina. Crossing an isolated desert border area illegally on foot and navigating the other challenges of illegal alien life is a deterrent to many.
  • Connections in the United States. Anyone who already knows people working here legally or illegally who will help them out has a destination to shoot for, a friend who knows prospective employers at the destination, and perhaps even a place to live, a source of cash loans or of gifts to finance the trip.
  • A familiar subcultural environment within the United States. Even someone who has no connections in the US will have an easier time of living here illegally if that person can move into an area where there is a large number of people from that person's originating culture who speak the same language.
  • Money. It costs to travel to the US border. Once there human smugglers get paid to move people across the border. Then there is an additional cost to travel to the final destination.

Under Bush's worker permit program all of these factors will become less of an obstacle to make it into the United States for the far greater number of people who are not illegal aliens and who are not going to try to make it into the United States as illegal aliens. For instance, a person who has a work permit to come work in the US for 3 years may be offered financial assistance by their future employer to pay relocation fees. Also, the dangers which require daring and stamina are eliminated with legal entry. Many who would be intimidated by the idea of breaking the law and coming in illegally will be willing to come legally. Therefore if a temporary worker permit program is enacted the people who currently are willing to come as illegal aliens will face orders of magnitude more competition than they face currently from the more distant, less daring, less energetic, less connected, poorer, and more law-abiding. As a consequence the current illegals will fail to get most of the legal worker permit jobs as most of those jobs will go to those who are unwilling or unable to come as illegals.

If a temporary worker permit program is enacted will there still be work for those who continue to enter the United States illegally? Think about it from the perspective of a potential or actual employer of illegal immigrants. Even if a temporary worker program is enacted there are a number of reasons to expect that much work will still be available for illegals:

  • Immediacy of the need. An employer who suddenly wants an employee tomorrow or next week will want to hire someone who is already local.
  • Short term nature of work. Many employers of illegal workers hire them for only a short time for a day or week or month on jobs to work on a construction site or other temporary work site.
  • Ability of employers to size up and interview prospective employees. Does anyone seriously think that employers are going to fly potential $6 per hour manual laborers into the US for a temporary visit for a job interview?
  • Certainty on the part of an employer that a person can be hired. Not all current employers of illegal immigrants will manage to convince the government that they need to hire someone from another country with a temporary worker permit. Why go through the uncertainty of trying to hire someone if there is an illegal nearby willing to work for cheap without complaint?
  • Unscrupulous employers want cheap exploitable low-tax pliable workers. Employers know they can get a cheaper and more pliable workforce if the workers are afraid of going to the authorities. Illegals help with tax avoidance too since the illegal will be a willing uncomplaining participant in the untaxed under-the-table economy.
  • No employer to do the hiring. Some jobs done by illegal aliens in the United States amount to self emloyment providing services. There is no legal US resident employer to even apply to hire people to do those jobs. Gardeners and other workers work by the task and many have a long list of customers and regular repeat customers. These people are their own bosses and therefore these jobs will therefore not be covered by a worker permit system.

A temporary work permit program will be a path to eventual illegal status. Many of the obstacles and deterrents for someone becoming an illegal alien in the United States are encountered in the initial step of trying to come here. What a work permit will do is to lower all those initial obstacles and allow someone to enter, work, save up money, make contacts, and learn how to live in America. At the end of the proposed 3 year work period a person whose permit is about to run out will be able to look for an illegal job far more easily than if that person had set out from another country to enter the United States and find an illegal job from the start. The danger of border crossing, the fear of the unknown, and many other obstacles are either reduced or eliminated for those who initially enter legally. How can the US government hope to deport these proposed temporary workers at the end of their 3 year temporary work period when the US government can not or will not even deport known illegals at the end of prison terms and illegals who are ordered by courts to leave the country?

A temporary work permit program will be widely used by employers who will not now use illegals. Just as there is a larger number of non-Americans who will not work in the United States illegally who will do so if it is legal there is a larger number of American employers who will hire foreign workers legally than will do so illegally. Make something legal and more people will do it than will be the case if it is not legal. The law is respected more by most people than it is by the advocates of allowing illegals to stay in the United States. The employers, once they are allowed to hire legally from abroad in much larger numbers, will have a big incentive to go for legalized foreign labor because it is cheaper: most countries have lower market prices for labor than the United States does and so most people in other countries are willing to work for wages that are lower than what Americans will accept. It is all about the Benjamins. Employers are going to go for foreign labor if that labor is cheaper to the employers.

The fallacy underlying the justification for bringing in millions of foreign laborers for low skilled jobs is that there is a labor shortage for some types of jobs. But markets do not have shortages. Markets simply have prices at which supply and demand for various types of jobs will match up and equal. In areas of the United States where few illegals have reached the trash still gets collected and people still work as dishwashers, fast food cookers, sewer workers, and other jobs which the advocates of mass immigration falsely claim that Americans will not do. A smaller supply of less skilled workers will cause the price of their labor to rise and companies and individuals will respond by developing and using techniques and equipment that reduce the need for human labor. The market will not only adjust but it will grow as companies speed up their rate of development of labor-saving innovations.

Another fundamental objection to a guest worker program is that there seems little point to bringing in large numbers of workers when there is no intention to keep them permanently. If they are talented enough in the first place (and most of our illegal and even many of our legal immigrants have few skills and little education; also see here). In this regard the German experience with temporary workers is a cautionary tale of many of its pitfalls.

People familiar with the German experience say there are lessons for all concerned. Kangal, in addition to recommending that workers learn the language earlier than he did, said the host country should enter the arrangement with open eyes.

If a country needing cheap labor hires another country's least-qualified workers, it will get poorly educated and unsophisticated people ill-equipped to learn the language and assimilate.

Though he is a Turk and experiences prejudice "every day," he also said it was not primarily Turkey's elite that had come to Germany. "In some ways," he said, "the prejudice is not wrong."

The Bush faux immigration reform proposal does not solve the shortcomings of current lax immigration law enforcement and the resulting crime and disrespect for the law that these shortcomings engender. It is possible to enforce immigration law but interest groups have managed to ensure that immigration law enforcement is undermined.

Bush's proposal does not attempt to slow the growth of the Recipient Class whose members receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes. As a result, the benefits that employers receive from employing cheap foreign labor comes with costs that the rest of the taxpayers have to pay. Current immigration policy is increasing the supply of grade school and high school drop-outs over five times more than all more educated people combined. The defenders of Bush's proposal ignore all this evidence and just attack the character of those who criticise this state of affairs. The only reason the US is not in even more trouble from our current policy and its foolish defenders is that unlike with Europe most of our immigrants are not Muslims.

Outside of the Bush Administration and outside of Washington DC there are many proposals being made for practical and effective ways to regain control of our borders and immigration. One proposal would be to build a barrier fence or wall on the entire US border with Mexico. Such a fence would cost $7 billion if built in the manner of the Israel-West Bank barrier which would be far less than what US taxpayers pay for medical care for illegal aliens in a single year. Another proposal from Tyler Cowen would raise the quality of people accepted as immigrants. More immigration reform proposals can be read here and here and here and here.

Update: Tyler Cowen reacts to this post on Volokh Conspiracy as does Arnold Kling on his EconLog blog.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 February 07 10:56 PM  Immigration Border Control

Proborders said at February 8, 2004 9:50 PM:

Comments about Tyler Cowen's three-tier immigration system and other comments...

Immigrants who would be buying their way into the US legally would need to be screened very carefully.

I would likely be opposed to Tyler Cowen's proposal that more immigrants be allowed to migrate from Mexico "and other poorer nations" with immigrants selected on the basis of their intelligence and English-language ability. I would also likely be opposed to giving Mexico (or Mexicans) a special priority in the immigration process.

Mexican immigrants are about 30% of all immigrants in the United States. 30% is huge, given that Mexico's population is less than 2% of the world's population.

Immigration from Mexico should be reduced, not increased. Proportionately Mexican immigration to the US should be limited such that no more than 10% of all immigrants arriving in the US are Mexican.

Increasing immigration from Mexico is not a good idea.

Mexicans/Mexican Americans are the largest group of Hispanics in the US (in the year 2000 there were about 20 million Mexican/Mexican American US residents). In California Hispanic women are the plurality, if not the majority, of live birth mothers. In Arizona Hispanic women will likely soon have more live births per year than non-Hispanic white women. In New Mexico a majority of live births are to Hispanic women. In Texas a plurality of live births are to Hispanic women.

What do California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas have in common? All have a border with Mexico. All four states were part of Mexico.

We should not assume that decades from now Hispanics would not want to have a separate Hispanic nation-state in what is now the American Southwest.

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States became sovereign countries; they are no longer British colonies although Commonwealth ties still exist among Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK. Spain lost all of her new world emprire. The USSR became many countries. Czechoslovakia is now two countries. Yugoslavia is now many countries. Pakistan separated from India. Bangladesh separated from Pakistan. Eritrea separated from Ethiopia.

Decades from now a majority or substantial minority of Hispanics may want to have a separate Hispanic nation-state in the American Southwest and maybe Florida as well.

By reducing immigration from Mexico the risk of loosing the American Southwest to Mexico or a new Hispanic nation-state that encompasses parts of the United States of America and the United States of Mexico can be reduced in my opinion.

Quoting from Pat Buchanan's 2000 "Trouble in the Neighborhood" speech:

As for the millions of illegals who have already entered this country, they have caused a demographic sea change. California now has 34 million people and, if the border is not secured, will have 50 million by 2010. One-third of California's population is now Latino.

Such sudden changes in the ethnic character of a society can mean everything. When Americans in Texas vastly out-numbered Mexicans, they rebelled, and
Mexico lost Texas. In 1893, U.S. sugar planters in Hawaii rose up and deposed
the Queen. Five years later, we annexed Hawaii. Mass immigration, then insurrection, independence, and annexation: This is how Europe's American empires were expropriated, and America grew. We may choose to forget this history, but Mexico remembers. And while we shudder at the idea it could happen here, Mexican irredentism is alive and well.

In 1998, the Mexican consul general in California exclaimed: "[E]ven though I am saying this part serious, part joking, I think we are practicing La Reconquista in California." In 1997, President Zedillo said: "I have proudly
proclaimed that the Mexican nation extends beyond the territory enclosed by
its borders, and...Mexican migrants are...a very important part of it."...

The Latino student organization MechA openly demands return of the Southwest to Mexico. Charles Truxillo, a professor of Chicano studies at the University of New Mexico, says the creation of a new "Aztlan," with it capital in Los Angeles is inevitable, and Mexicans should seek it by any means necessary. Ricky Sierra of One Stop Immigration, declares: "We're recolonizing America so they're afraid of us. It's time to take back what is ours."

One demonstration leader in Westwood was heard to say, "We are here...to show white Protestant Los Angeles that we're the majority...and we claim this land as ours. It's always been ours and we're still here…if anybody is going to be deported it's going to be you."...

My friends, Mexico's people are good people, who have been robbed repeatedly of the just rewards of their labor. While any American President must be ready to help Mexico, we cannot permit any regime to use America as a spillway for the excess population it cannot employ. And we cannot allow to rise within our country a nation within a nation where Spanish is the language and anti-Americanism the ideology, while U.S. taxpayers pay for its schools and services as it swells inexorably towards the Nuevo Aztlan of the Chicano activists' imagination.

Samuel Berrey said at January 27, 2005 9:24 PM:

Honorable Joe Bonnor.
As an amercian citizen I resent this program. Illegals entering or in this Country should Be returned to thier home Crountry,wheather it's Mexeco or any other crountry.
The mexecon's are taking over the construction industry,insted of helping them by giving them jobs we are punshing the workers of this great Nation. I have a son who has been in construction for about 20 years. In this time he has worked helper first class carpenter concret forms forman and supertendant.apporxmently 5 mounth's ago he was terminated from a job as supertendat from ajob in Fla. purly because He had a full crew of spanish speakers that He had to commuciate with through an interputer that could not make His Instructions clear. He had also asked the copany for langue school to better manage His people. Wheather they are leagal or not they should have to speak ENGLISH this goes for Our Hispanics. I speak from on this FROM EXPEREANCE,I AM A RETIRED FEDERAL EMPLOYEE.tHE LAST 20 YEARS OF mY 36 YEARS WAS SPENT IN SOUTH Texas. We had problems at time of these hispanics speaking english but could not comprenend what they werer reading when using techinal manuals. This is not sour Graoes I had many very good Hispanic friends,and knew many very many good Mechanic's.The good Mechanics were a minaroty
I would apperciate your consedration in this matter. and cast a NO vote on in this if or and when it comes up it comes up for I would like to hear Your opin on this matter if possiable. Samuel Berrey
8 laredo Drive
Saraland Ala.

Proborders said at February 17, 2005 7:28 AM:

In my above post "loosing" should instead be "losing".

If construction and fields such as plumbing become dominated by illegal aliens, there will be fewer opportunities for non-college graduate American workers.

amy brenner, LCSW said at February 23, 2005 1:30 PM:

How Un-American to think that immigrants are preventing americans from jobs and causing financial hardships. This country was founded by immigrants, states are governed by immigrants, and possibly one day this country will be led by one. This nation was founded by those seeking a better life for them and their families, is that such a terrible reason for wanting to live in the united states. Post 9/11, it makes sense to raise the bar and to try to ward off potential dangers and harmful persons. However, what about the kind, loving, hard working, peaceful people wanting to live in this country because of everything it stands for. FREEDOM. I think the Guest Worker Permit is a start, a good start, and a potentially fair chance for those whom deserve it.

Randall Parker said at February 23, 2005 1:47 PM:

Amy Brenner, LCSW,

Put aside the mythology which has been promoted about all immigrants as beneficial to America and look at the actual empirical social science evidence on Hispanic immigrants in particular.

The Hispanics create a number of problems for Americans. Hispanics are very poorly educated when they arrive, do not rise scholastically to American average levels over successive generations (and, generally speaking, immigrants quickly reach the level of scholastic achievement that their group will stay at in later generations, earn lower incomes (and hence pay less in taxes than they receive in benefits), have kids illegitimately at higher rates, and commit crimes at higher rates (and also see here).

Also, you are wrong in your claim that everyone who came here came as immigrants. This country was founded by settlers, not immigrants. The settlers created a new society. They did not integrate into an existing society. The settlers set the pattern for what came after. If the original settlers had been Catholics or Swedes or some other group then America would be radically different in governance and culture than what it is today.

L. Sz. said at July 23, 2005 8:48 PM:

I think that an opportunity should be given to decent people who are willing to work,have NO criminal record.I'm part of the illegal immigrant community (I'm from Europe,not Mexico)since '99, I started as a dishwasher,now I'm a manager with a $40.000 yearly salary.I pay my taxes,rent,bills,etc,but receive no benefits,no taxrefund,nothing whatsoever.
I'm looking forward to the President's Temporary Worker Program because It will open a lot of doors that were closed for the past five years.I'd like to become a Citizen one day because It's great Country!

An illegal.

- said at August 19, 2009 2:31 AM:


I want to live & work in America. How can I get sponsor to get job visa? How much time will it take if I get sponsor?

Thank you.

Freedom Fighter said at September 25, 2009 5:01 AM:

While I agree that America was and is being built by cheap (and during one period, 'free' labor), I cannot agree with this principle as it applies to literally millions of foreigners crossing the border illegally and unchecked by our government.

We've clearly lost control, and every other point made here is valid with regard to taxpayers funding schools and hospitals for the benefit of a surplus of workers who don't enjoy these benefits in their home country.

It isn't fair, and it isn't what the taxpayer bargained for when he agreed to pay taxes.

'America' will eventually retreat to states not employing large numbers of cheap laborers, and this will only facilitate what is clearly a chicano agenda at 'Reconquista' of the Southwest, and eventually Florida. When Castro dies, and relations with Cuba 'normalize', South Florida will be flooded with Cuban immigrants and the state will be overrun by hispanics seeking jobs.

And they will find them, working in tourist resorts (still the number 1 industry in Florida), and for every small business that seeks to improve their profits by trimming their margins.

Every doctor's office in South Florida is staffed by latino office workers.

Why? Because "they work cheap" was what one doctor-friend told me.

A relative term, 'cheap' does not include the fact that they 'demand respect' and this is not something you 'demand'.

For this reason, the quality of service in most doctor's offices is dismally poor, and I do NOT recommend anyone have any elective procedure by a doctor so staffed.

Many local doctors have moved away for this reason.

Last year, 58000 people left the state of Florida. The population went down by that much; it hasn't gone 'down' since the end of the Second World War.

What's going on?

Relocation and Displacement.

In Palm Beach County, a 'colony' was set up (with the help of the Catholic Church) to provide housing, food and day-care for the families of men employed in the most basic of occupations; cutting lawns and performing other 'yard work' for affluent retirees and some of the wealthiest people on the face of the earth.

Jupiter Island, Florida is home to Tiger Woods, Perry Como, Celine Dione, Greg Norman, Alan Jackson and other famous celebrities.

It is a barrier island separated from the mainland of Florida's (Republican) Martin County by the Intracoastal Waterway. On the other side of that waterway, across the street from nice homes on the Intracoastal and Jupiter Inlet District, in an old federal housing project, is approximately 300-500 'Guatemalans' whose primary occupation is in the yard maintenance 'industry'.

Every Saturday, angry protesters petition in front of 'El Sol' - an abandoned church next to the Jupiter Police Station bought by the Catholic Diocese and turned into a 'job and cultural center' for contractors to hook up with laborers.

Every Saturday, the Police are out there taking 'video' and still pictures of the protesters.

It's a losing battle to stay, and no longer worth it. Florida schools are rated 28th in the country. And, while the local elementary school has a 'Great Schools' rating of 10, I don't believe it. A couple of years ago, school teachers, firefighters and police were moving away, and jobs went unfilled because they paid so poorly.

Virginia is a state where the schools are nationally rated at #6.

My son will go to school there, where his culture and his heritage is 'celebrated', and where he won't be burdened by some hispanic kid in the class who can't speak English.

Escape from Paradise...the working title of my new book, based on 36 years of life in 'The Sunshine State' which should provide substantive proof for anyone contemplating a relocation here that:

1. This isn't 'Paradise' by any stretch of the imagination, and

2. You'll lose your freedom as an American by living here, because 'citizenship' means nothing.

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