NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Guest Workers: Here to Stay

December 17, 2001

Guest or foreign worker programs aim to add workers to the labor force without adding permanent residents to the population. However, analysts note importing foreign workers to cope with "temporary" labor shortages inevitably distorts the economy and increases the dependence of some employers on foreign workers - and temporary workers often become permanent ones.

Importing labor is not simple, and managing guest workers is even more difficult.. Whether in the United States with Mexican farm workers or in Germany with the Turks, the need for guest workers lasts longer and grows larger than anticipated.

  • Between 1942 and 1964, some 4.6 million Mexicans were admitted to the United States as Braceros or guest workers to fill jobs on U.S. farms.
  • While more Mexicans - some 5.3 million - were apprehended in the United States during these years, Mexican immigration increased.
  • Between 1942 and 1944, 13,000 Mexican immigrants were admitted -- and between 1962 and 1964, 146,000 were admitted.
  • In Germany, there are 7.3 million foreign residents in 2000, over 10 times more than the 686,000 foreigners in 1960, when guest worker recruitment began in earnest.

Most guest worker programs begin with employers in the immigration country requesting foreign workers. Before governments agree to open the border gates to foreign workers, observers say they should consider the alternatives to foreign workers. That consideration might begin with the fact that labor shortages reflect a demand for labor that exceeds the supply of labor. In a market economy, raising wages is one cure for labor imbalances. This has the effect of increasing the supply of labor while lessening the demand, thus eliminating the labor shortage.

Source: Philip Martin, "There is Nothing More Permanent Than Temporary Foreign Workers," Backgrounder, April 2001, Center for Immigration Studies.

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