Feds test stricter temporary worker procedures
By Mariana Alvarado
The Scripps Howard News Service, December 30, 2009
The U.S. government has started ensuring that temporary workers leave the country when their work visas expire — an enforcement procedure that to date has been lacking.
Temporary workers who entered the country as of Dec. 8 at the San Luis or Douglas ports of entry in Arizona are required to register their final departure.
The pilot program for exiting H-2A and H-2B temporary workers is expected to last about a year, said Joanne Ferriera, spokeswoman with U.S. Customs and Border Protection
H-2A visas are for temporary workers in agricultural jobs, while H-2B visas are for temporary, non-agricultural workers.
'We'll evaluate how the program worked, and from that we'll make a decision whether it continues or expands,' Ferriera said.
The new program applies only to workers entering the country on and after that date, Ferriera said. Frequent border crossers and commuters do not need to register every departure.
The program will also help 'secure U.S. borders more effectively and streamline existing guest-worker programs,' according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection press release.
The agency said that more than 205,000 H-2 guest workers crossed into the U.S. in the 2009 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank on immigration, said the pilot program is a useful exercise if the long-term goal is to check out all temporary visitors.
Currently, all visitors entering the United States are supposed to return their I-94 forms on their way out of the country.
But that has not been the case.
'Even people coming to Disneyland or whatever … should be checked out when they leave, and that's not what we do now,' Krikorian said. 'The way we do it now is just a complete Mickey Mouse system. A checkout pilot program is important if you are going to have a guest-worker program, but it's not going to fix the problem.'
Krikorian added that he doesn't think the U.S. needs guest workers because the program leads to more immigration.
'Think about it. If you are a guest worker, you come and go several times, you like it here … where schools are better, health care is better, so you want to stay,' he said. 'This program is intended to prevent that kind of thing.'
For Mexican authorities, the new system could help improve the system.
'It could facilitate the assistance provided by the consulate in the future,' said Socorro Cordova, a spokeswoman for the Mexican consular network in Arizona.
Cordova said the Mexican consulates in Douglas and Yuma are monitoring the new process and offering help to workers returning to Mexico.
Under the pilot program, workers with H-2A and H-2B visas must also depart through one of the exit kiosks at the ports of entry where the program is being tested, Ferriera said. The kiosks have both English and Spanish instructions.