Serwer looks at past, present, and future guest worker programs:
[U]nder the current program, guest workers’ tenuous legal status means they have little if any leverage over their employers, who can simply hire more, less-troublesome foreign workers and send the others home.
The bipartisan Senate Gang of Eight thinks they’ve solved that problem. Crafted with the input of business and labor, their plan introduces a new visa program for nonagricultural workers called the W visa, which, unlike the current H-2B visa, won’t tie the workers to a single employer and will allow them to eventually apply for citizenship. That’s supposed to prevent employers from taking advantage of workers: If workers don’t like one job, they could apply for another similar one. But W visa workers would have to find a job quickly—within two months—or risk losing their status.
The cap on W visas is relatively low:
While the W visa undoubtedly has more protections for foreign workers than the H-2B visa, it won’t be replacing it. Up to 66,000 H-2B workers will be allowed in every year. Returning guest workers will be exempt from the cap for at least five years. That means, at least at first, the H-2B program—under which Diaz and Uvalle say they were exploited for years by an abusive employer—will be far larger than the new program that gives workers more protections. While legislators expect the W visa will appeal to employers who want more skilled workers and don’t want to retrain new ones, there’s nothing in the bill itself that keeps employers from choosing the H-2B instead of the W visa.
Earlier Dish on guest-worker programs here.