What is the History of Foreign Worker Visas in the United States?

Erick Widman

The history of foreign worker visas in the United States dates back to the early 20th century, when the country was experiencing a shortage of labor in certain industries. In 1917, the U.S. government introduced the first temporary worker visa program, called the H-2 program, which allowed foreign workers to enter the country to work in agriculture.

Over the years, the U.S. government introduced other temporary worker visa programs, including the H-1 program for skilled workers in 1952, the L-1 program for intra-company transfers in 1970, and the O-1 program for individuals with extraordinary abilities in 1990.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 also created the H-2A program for agricultural workers, and the H-2B program for non-agricultural seasonal workers.

In the 21st century, there have been various attempts to reform the temporary worker visa system in the United States. For example, in 2007, a comprehensive immigration reform bill was proposed that would have created a new guest worker program and provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. However, the bill ultimately failed to pass.

Currently, foreign worker visas continue to play an important role in the U.S. economy, with thousands of temporary worker visas issued each year in various industries. However, the system remains controversial, with some arguing that it harms American workers and others arguing that it is necessary to meet labor demands in certain sectors.

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