New Visa Would Allow At Least 20,000 Low-Wage Workers To Come To U.S.

The Senate is closer to an immigration plan that includes a new visa program for low-wage workers. The visa plan was agreed to by the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and will provide at least 20,000 visas starting in 2015. Robert Siegel speaks with Tom Snyder, manager of the AFL-CIO's Citizenship Now campaign, who helped craft the plan.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For organized labor, a guest worker program used to be anathema. Back in 1981, the AFL-CIO pronounced itself unalterably opposed to a guest worker plan together with the League of United Latin American Citizens, known as LULAC and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, MALDEF. The labor federation warned that guest workers were likely to become a permanent subclass of employees, subject to exploitation.

Well, joining us now is Tom Snyder, manager of the AFL-CIO's Citizenship Now program. He was closely involved in the recent negotiations. Welcome to the program.

TOM SNYDER: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And what has changed so much over the years to make a guest worker program acceptable to the AFL-CIO?

SNYDER: Well, this has been a, as you said, going back 34 years, guest worker programs have been a thorn in the side of the union movement and, frankly, a thorn in the side of guest workers. When you come into the country as a guest worker, you're essentially coming into the country as an indentured servant. You're here on a temporary basis. And if you complain about any conditions on your job, you're subject to being sent packing.

SIEGEL: And do you feel that this agreement that you've reached with the Chamber of Commerce addresses all those concerns adequately?

SNYDER: I think it's an excellent agreement. And, just by way of example, it's going to be called a W visa, creates a new employment visa. It is precisely not a temporary worker program. It's not a guest worker program. It's not a seasonal program. A W visa holder will be able to come into the country to work. And if he or she so decides, will have the right to self-petition for a green card or a legal permanent residency, which is the first step toward getting on the road to citizenship.

SIEGEL: Let me ask you a couple of questions about this. The range of guest worker visas, W visas, in this plan would be from 20,000 to 200,000 depending on economic conditions. Given today's economy, if you had to give us a ballpark number assuming the program were already in effect, what kind of a number of visas for this year, would this year warrant given the level of unemployment in the U.S.?

SNYDER: Oh, 20 or less.

SIEGEL: This would be very, very few W visas granted.

SNYDER: Yeah, given the, you know, employment conditions in the United States right now, that's one of the reasons the program's delayed till 2015. We want the economy to grow more and for the unemployment rate to come down.

SIEGEL: Should a worker with this kind of visa be permitted to bring a spouse or a family into the country? Or if two single guest workers have a child in this country, would the child be granted citizenship?

SNYDER: This W visa program contemplates bringing immediate family into the country with them, yes.

SIEGEL: So presumably there would be children born in the country of parents who come here on the...

SNYDER: Yes.

SIEGEL: And this was discussed in the negotiations where...

SNYDER: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...we are ready for a - well, it would be only natural that would happen if you have people coming in.

SNYDER: Exactly.

SIEGEL: Many of the concerns that you - as you said, the AFL-CIO historically had and made it against the guest worker program are things that we might have associated with the old Bracero program of the Mexican farm labor coming into the country as guest workers for a quarter of a century. And one of the things I've read about that was that it was so popular to try to get one of those permits into the U.S. that in Mexico, people bribed their way into it.

I'm just - I wonder, do you think you might be encouraging the situation of, you know, if there are only a few W visas available will create an illicit trade in W visas overseas?

SNYDER: That's a danger. One of the things I didn't mention that is included in our agreement is that foreign labor recruiters are going to be pre-certified by the secretary of labor. There is a cottage industry that exists right now where labor recruiters round up people, charge them very heavy fees, hold onto their passports and so on. And one of the things we insisted on in the negotiations is that we want a certification process on the Department of Labor.

SIEGEL: That's Tom Snyder of the AFL-CIO speaking with us about the agreement that labor reached with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on immigration reform, in particular on a guest worker program, a so-called W visa to work here.

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