A guest worker is a person from another country who has been granted permission to work in the U.S. temporarily. This person is typically sponsored and petitioned by a U.S.-based employer for a time period of up to one year. They are granted an employment visa that allows them to stay and work in the country for the allotted time.

After a guest worker’s allotted time for employment has expired, the guest worker must generally return to their country of origin. Guest worker arrangements usually involve some form of seasonal or cyclical work.

What Are Guest Worker Programs?

Guest worker programs allow employers to petition foreign workers for temporary work in their company. There are currently two guest worker programs available under federal law: the H-2A visa program for agricultural workers and the H-2B visa program for non-agricultural lines of work. The programs allow employment in the U.S. for the same worker for less than one year.

While there are slight differences between the two programs, sponsor employers must follow the same basic requirements. They must be able to prove to the Department of Labor (DOL) that:

  • There are not enough American workers who are willing, able, and qualified to perform the work needed; and
  • The wages and conditions of American workers will not be “adversely affected” by the hiring and importation of foreign guest workers.

Foreign nationals who participate in guest worker programs are generally not allowed to bring their families to the United States with them. Thus, they are often separated from their spouses and children during the time of their employment.

What Are Common Issues Involving Guest Worker Rights?

Guest worker programs can be beneficial for both employers and workers. However, there are specific legal issues that all involved parties should keep in mind. These include:

  • There are caps on the number of H-2 visas available each year.
  • Only certain countries are eligible for guest worker program interactions.
  • Employers need to fulfill the DOL requirements. If they cannot meet these requirements, the worker(s) will not be granted employment visas.
  • Workers must continue to work for their sponsoring employer during the entire time of their stay in the United States. If they lose their job or the company dismantles, they may be required to leave the country.

Lastly, due to the temporary nature of guest worker programs, some guest workers may be subject to various abuses. These can include abuses with regards to working conditions, wages, working hours, and other factors. Any immigrant worker’s rights violations should be reported to labor authorities or to a legal professional.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Guest Worker Issues?

Guest worker laws are complex and may be subject to change on a yearly basis. It may be in your best interests to hire an immigration lawyer in your area if you have any questions or if you need any help with guest worker issues. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice and research to assist you with your claim. Also, if you need to file any legal documents or appear in an immigration court, your lawyer can assist you with those processes as well.