The Guest Worker Program: A Crucial Element of Immigration Reform

With the flurry of media attention surrounding the Gang of Eight releasing the details of its bipartisan immigration reform bill a couple weeks ago, immigration reform has once again moved to the front-burner of American political discourse.  Catchphrases such as “securing our borders” and “providing a pathway to citizenship” have been used so much in headlines and news broadcasts that they have become a common part of our vernacular.  However, there has been surprisingly little discussion of one particular issue – which may very well be the glue needed to hold together a meaningful immigration reform package – an effective guest worker program.

This post highlights data from two surveys:  1) Public Opinion Strategies/Ciruli Associates – Vernon K. Krieble Foundation March 2013 National Survey; and, 2) ABC News/Washington Post April 2013 National Survey.

First, our poll clearly shows that American voters see border control and a guest worker program as being intrinsically linked in a positive way.  In fact, seventy-one percent (71{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of voters said they agreed with the following statement: “The best way to get control of our border is to have a system for handling guest workers.  Without a guest worker program, we are just inviting more illegal border crossings.”  In essence, voters are saying that they believe America cannot effectively secure its border if border control is not accompanied by a functioning guest worker program.  Republicans (67{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}), Independents (63{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}), and Democrats (78{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) are all in agreement with this strong statement tying the two issues together.

Therefore, it is not surprising that roughly seven out of ten voters (69{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) nationally said they favor “a guest worker program that would give work permits to people who are already in the U.S. illegally who pass a security background check and have a job.”  Further, more than a third of the voters we interviewed (35{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) said they would “strongly” favor this type of a guest worker program.  Self-identified Democratic voters were the strongest supporters (82{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor), but more than two-thirds (70{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of Independent voters and a solid majority (54{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of Republican voters also counted themselves as supporters.

When asked a little bit differently on the recent ABC News/Washington Post Survey, 60{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of the respondents said they would support “more visas for highly skilled workers from other countries,” and fifty-six percent (56{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) said they would support “a guest worker program for low-skilled workers from other countries.”  It is important to note that the poll conducted by ABC News/Washington Post made no mention of security background checks or the immigrants already having a job, and the numbers were still quite strong.

Looking in greater detail at a specific guest worker program, the Public Opinion Strategies/Ciruli Associates poll tested a six-part guest worker program.  The two most popular aspects of six-part guest worker program are the two which could be most easily associated with helping secure our borders.   First, guest workers would need to “pass a security background check and have a job” (90{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor) and, second, “workers would receive a work permit smart card that includes a photograph of the worker, employment information, and biometric data such as fingerprints” (85{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor).

The table below shows all six components of the guest worker program as tested:

chart 1

Overall, when packaged as one six-part proposal, roughly eight in ten voters (79{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) support the establishment of this guest worker program.  Support is significantly high across party with (74{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of Republicans, (88{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of Democrats, and sixty-eight percent (68{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of Independents in the support column.

The guest worker program, despite not being discussed nearly as much as some of the other more popular catchphrases, is indeed an item that Americans see as a crucial element in any meaningful and lasting immigration reform plan.

Public Opinion Strategies