Don't Ask Them, They Just Work Here

The number of non-immigrant foreign workers is on the rise.


Foreign workers not interested in permanent residency are becoming increasingly common in the United States. Two-and-a-half years ago, in the face of the private sector's growing need for skilled workers, the federal government eased restrictions on non-immigrant work visas, allowing any company with an office in the United States to sponsor employees from abroad. Under I-129 visas, foreign nationals can live and work here legally for up to six years.

"This [program] is strictly for professional, technical and managerial jobs," says Michael Dougherty of the Department of Labor. Employers filed 55,000 applications during fiscal year 1992, the first of the liberalized policy's operation; that number increased to 75,000 during FY1993. Overall, more than 250,000 foreigners are working under the new provisions (since applications routinely cover more than one job, the total number of workers is greater than the numbers of applications). The leading categories of I-129 workers are physical therapists and computer programmers.

Charles Keely, a Georgetown University demographer, says that the policy is responsive to the global trend toward free trade because it gives employers access to much-needed skilled labor while opening up employment opportunities to foreigners not interested in permanently relocating. He argues that in an international economy moving away from trade barriers, it makes sense that labor, like capital and goods, should also be less restricted in its movements. Use of non-immigrant visas, according to Keely, will continue to grow because they offer a workable alternative to the "outdated mindset that each nation should be a labor autarky."