What Is the W Visa Program?

Question: What Is the W Visa Program?

Answer:

One of the most contentious issues during the U.S. Senate’s debate over comprehensive immigration reform was the dispute over a W visa program, a new classification that would allow lower skilled foreign laborers to work temporarily in the country.

The W visa, in effect, creates a guest-worker program that would apply to lower-wage workers, including housekeepers, landscapers, retail workers, restaurant staff and some construction workers.

The Senate’s Gang of Eight settled on a temporary worker plan that was a compromise between Democratic and Republican lawmakers, industry leaders and labor unions.

Under the proposal for the W visa program, which likely would start in 2015, foreign workers with lesser skills would be able to apply for jobs in the United States. The program would be based on a system of registered employers who would apply to the government for participation. Upon acceptance, the employers would be permitted to hire a specific number of W visa workers each year.

The employers would be required to advertise their open positions for a period of time to give U.S. workers a chance to apply for the openings. Businesses would be prohibited from advertising positions that require a bachelor’s degree or higher degrees.

The spouse and minor children of the W visa-holder is allowed to accompany or follow to join the worker and can receive work authorization for the same period.

The W visa program calls for the creation of a Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research that will operate under U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security.

The bureau’s role is to help determine the numbers for the annual cap of new worker visas and identify shortages of labor.

The bureau also will help develop labor recruiting methods for businesses and report to Congress on how the program is doing.

Much of the dispute in Congress over the W visa grew out of the unions’ determination to protect wages and prevent abuses, and business leaders’ determination to keep regulations to a minimum. The Senate’s legislation wound up containing protections for whistleblowers and guidelines for wages that guarded against sub-minimum pay.

According to the bill, S. 744, the wages to be paid “will be either the actual wage paid by the employer to other employees with similar experience and qualification or the prevailing wage level for the occupational classification in the geographic metropolitan statistical area whichever is higher.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave its blessing to the plan, believing the system for bringing in temporary workers would be good for business and good for the U.S. economy. The chamber said in a statement: “The new W-Visa classification features a streamlined process for employers to register job openings that can be filled by temporary foreign workers, while still ensuring that American workers get first crack at every job and that wages paid are the greater of actual or prevailing wage levels.”

The number of W visas offered would be capped at 20,000 the first year and increase to 75,000 for the fourth year, under the Senate’s plan. "The bill establishes a guest worker program for lower-skilled workers that ensures our future flow of workers is manageable, traceable, fair to American workers, and in line with our economy’s needs," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. "The modernization of our visa programs will ensure people who want to come legally – and who our economy needs to come legally – can do so."