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U.S. Temporary Foreign Worker Visa Programs


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The United States accepts hundreds of thousands of foreign workers each year in a variety of industries. Persistent U.S. labor shortages and accusations of abuse have reenergized the debate over the scale of these programs.  
Summary
  • Temporary foreign workers have long supported the U.S. economy, providing American industries, such as agriculture and technology, with a critical labor force.
  • These workforce programs have been troubled by pushback from domestic labor groups, an influx of undocumented immigrants, poor enforcement of work visa restrictions, and concerns about treatment of foreign workers.
  • President Biden has expanded the capacity of some programs, including by streamlining the application process, but more ambitious efforts have stalled in Congress.

Foreign workers have been an essential but contentious feature of the U.S. economic landscape for generations. Since the United States launched its first migrant labor program during World War I, Washington has struggled to balance the shifting needs of industry with the concerns of the domestic labor force. Meanwhile, the temporary worker debate has been complicated by increasing levels of undocumented immigration and a growing political divide. President Donald Trump promised to reform temporary foreign worker programs, also known as guest worker programs, in line with his “Buy American and Hire American” agenda; although his proposals to overhaul the country’s immigration system stalled in Congress, his administration managed to halt most foreign worker visa programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. President Joe Biden has sought to reverse his predecessor’s approach by expanding the legal opportunities for temporary migration, but reform efforts have also faced resistance from some policymakers.

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Visa & Immigration