Alex Nowrasteh‘s latest policy analysis on guest worker programs has just been published by the Cato Institute and can be accessed here on the Cato Institute website (here’s the direct link to the PDF). Alex makes many similar points to what I made in a blog post a month ago replying to Daniel Costa, but he also includes some historical background and other details that make for more compelling reading. Among the historical precedents he references is the case of Metics in ancient Greece, which my co-blogger Nathan blogged about half a year ago. He also has an interesting description of how “worker abuses” have been carried out not just by private firms, but by government bureaucrats, and how more flexibility on the part of workers to change jobs and less government discretionary authority can help curb these abuses. Here’s how he puts it:
Abuse is not confined to firms. Some of the worst abuses of guest workers have occurred at
the hands of government employees. During the Bracero Program, Department of Labor (DOL) inspectors often slapped, berated, and cursed at Braceros for asking questions. According to one eyewitness: “Nobody had any patience. Immigration, Public Health, Labor Department—it’s all the same. Everybody curses at the Braceros and shoves them around.” Violence and abuse perpetrated by government inspectors and bureaucrats was endemic. The Braceros were frequently humiliated, but as one observer recalled, “migrants usually just stood there and took the abuse–what else could they do–they felt pretty bad about it. I must have seen a lot of Braceros cry after they were talked to in this way.”
Abuse by government bureaucrats has diminished over the years or become stealthy, but the entire problem could be removed by contracting out, licensing, or just relying upon private companies to carry out inspections, recruitment, health checks, and other guest worker functions. Visa portability that lets guest workers change jobs with a minimum of paperwork or notice to employers as long as the worker notifies the government after the fact deprives abusive employers of employees, incentivizes good behavior, and acts as an enforcement mechanism that punishes employers who do not treat employees as well as competing firms. Visa portability allows workers to regulate their own work environment or change it at will.