By: Jorge Tuddón
Step into Sinigual, at the corner of 41st Street and 3rd Avenue in New York City, and you’ll be greeted by Rosa and Maria, who will guide you to your table whether you have a reservation or not. Juan will be your server for the day and Edher, the manager, will ask you for comments or suggestions during your meal to help improve your experience at the restaurant.
Any visitor to the United States that pays enough attention to the staff at a restaurant or hotel can easily observe that they are being serviced by Hispanics. While this example was inside a Mexican themed restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, this fact remains true anywhere in the United States, where Latinos represent roughly 27% of the workers in the service industry. But other sectors not so visible to the public like farming, fishing, construction, and cleaning and maintenance have also been dominated by Hispanics in recent years, and with higher representation than in the service industry (1).
Presently, the United States faces a situation where more jobs are being offered than the U.S. workforce population can cover, (2) thereby creating a job surplus in certain sectors. If some of these sectors are dominated by Hispanics and have a tendency to grow in the near future, it would be wise to consider further extending the already dynamic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico to include a worker’s visa for such industries. An immigration document could be accompanied by training and certifications for North America, where people that have been certified can rotate by seasons working in the United States when needed, such as when the Bracero program was enacted mid last century to cover for the agricultural and railroad labor shortage that the U.S. faced during WWI and WWII, which peaked in 1956 with 445,000 documented Mexican worker admissions (3).
In theory, the Bracero program was simple and sound: there was a need for workers on one side of the border to tend to the fields and crops and the construction of the railroad, and a surplus and eager population to work on the other side of it. Economics did its job. Could a Bracero style program be put in place today? Sure, but where to start?
Data shows that construction and agriculture are the two industries where documented and undocumented workers are roughly employed at a 1:1 ratio (4). Employment happens because there is a supply and demand met for different labor sectors, so if it could be regulated, it would grant stability to the hiring companies, the workers and the economy. If these industries are tied to those industries that the Department of Labor (DOL) estimates employ the highest concentration of Latino/Hispanic workers, it is possible to have a visa program for farming, construction and transportation.
In terms of agriculture, there could be a program like the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP in English or PTAT in Spanish) between Mexico and Canada, but amongst Mexico and the United States. Canada needs a solid agricultural sector but does not have enough citizens or Permanent Residents for it, so instead Canada hires temporary foreign workers (TFW). Considering the 1:1 ratio of documented-undocumented agricultural workers in the U.S., the U.S. could greatly benefit from a similar program.
The other occupations to focus have already existing and enforceable regulations in the U.S. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires workers to take different OSHA certification courses to work in the construction industry. The courses could be added to the requirements for working construction in Mexico, and workers who have obtained the required certification could then be available to apply for a temporary visa in the U.S. valid for as long as the project requires. Mexico’s Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare, and the Employment and Social Development Canada, could work with the U.S. DOL to align these standards; consequently, the region would have a supply of Mexican workers ready to rotate and be employed temporarily in the U.S. and Canada, granting North America a more stable labor force in this sector.
Transportation is also well regulated, and the reality is that there is a surplus in jobs in this sector. It is common knowledge that U.S. stakeholders in the trucking industry wish to maintain only-U.S. employees (5), but if the U.S. wishes to continue growing economically it has to understand that it is impossible to do so without help. The U.S. could issue a number of visas for immigrants to fill this much-needed void that will continue to grow in the near future. Commercial driver licenses (CDL) are already regulated federally, though issued by states DMVs, so aligning the requirements in the three USMCA countries for CDLs would be an easy step forward to provide the needed workers in this industry in the U.S.
The benefits of incorporating migrant workers currently living in the U.S. into the workforce or bringing Mexican temporary workers into the United States benefits the supply of workers and jobs in both countries. In fact, the benefit of having an established visa program for undocumented workers has been studied, and results show an increase in stable and higher wages, improvement in English language skills, increased interest in completing additional education and training, improvement in their health outcomes, and if they are enrolled in social security programs, taxable income would cover for such burden. In fact, The Center for American Progress estimates that providing a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants in the United States would boost U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by a cumulative total of $1.7 trillion over 10 years and create 438,800 new jobs. And this is just the benefit of regularizing undocumented workers.
In conclusion, a temporary visa program for migrant workers would definitely increase the U.S.´s GDP, which would in return benefit the entire North America region. Now, imagine the benefits for the U.S. if Hispanics had equal participation in STEM (currently at 8%) and other professional roles to that of the total employment across all occupations (17%) , or equal to our population percentage (18%).
Talk about harnessing the Hispanic economic opportunity!
So, what are we waiting for, let´s use these numbers to our advantage and cement North America at the forefront of the world’s economies.
1.- Indeed, the Department of Labor estimates that the sector with the highest concentration of Hispanic workers is farming, fishing and forestry at 43.0%. In second place is building and grounds cleaning and maintenance, at 37.9%; followed by construction and extraction at 35.7%; food preparation and serving at 27.3%; and transportation and material moving at 23.9%. While Hispanics remain overrepresented in service occupations, they now make up 10.7% of workers in management jobs, up from 5.2% in 2000. U.S. Department Of Labor Blog (online), Hispanics in the Labor Force: 5 Facts, available at: https://blog.dol.gov/2021/09/15/hispanics-in-the-labor-force-5-facts - :~:text=The number of Hispanic workers in the labor force has,reach 35.9 million in 2030., accessed on May 16, 2023, created on September 15,2021.
2.- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (online), Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, available at: https://www.bls.gov/jlt/, accessed on May 16, 2023, updated May 2, 2023.
3.- The Wilson Center (online), Mexican Braceros and US Farm Workers, available at: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/mexican-braceros-and-us-farm-workers, accessed on May 16, 2023, created on July 10, 2020.
4.- Pew Research Center, A majority of Americans say immigrants mostly fill jobs U.S. citizens do not want , available at: https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2020/06/10/a-majority-of-americans-say-immigrants-mostly-fill-jobs-u-s-citizens-do-not-want/, accessed on: May 17, 2023, published on: June 10, 2020.
5.- FleetOwner (online), Immigrant truck drivers: Shhhh. We don’t talk about it., available at: https://www.fleetowner.com/operations/drivers/article/21696194/immigrant-truck-drivers-shhhh-we-dont-talk-about-it, accessed on May 17, 2023, published on June 11, 2017.