A new study found that skilled guest workers in the U.S. on temporary visas increase their annual earnings by an average of $11,860 when those workers acquire green cards. The reason for this is that a legal permanent resident (green card holder) has the ability to switch employers without losing residency status, which greatly boosts that employee’s bargaining power. Referring specifically to H-1B guest workers, Sankar Mukhopadhyay, co-author and associate professor of economics at the University of Nevada, and an immigrant from India, said that “Employers know they have these workers over a barrel…[guest workers] aren’t going to demand a raise…even if they deserve it, and they aren’t going to move on to another company, because they know doing those things will jeopardize their chances of getting their green cards in time.”

This study highlights the abuse that is built into skilled guest worker programs. Despite the alleged “chronic shortage” of qualified American workers, employers are not willing to sponsor H-1B employees for green cards. The top 20 employers of H-1B guest workers only sponsor 13% of these employees for green cards. This is because those employers are not interested in finding the “best and brightest,” but instead want a steady supply of workers who will work for lower wages and have virtually no bargaining power.

Professor Mukhopadhyay calls for a change in the U.S. immigration system that curtails guest worker programs and admits immigrants based on their education and job skills. This would end the incentive for employers to bring in foreign workers, according to Professor Mukhopadhyay, because immigrants have more mobility than do guest workers and can demand better wages and benefits. He says, “Increasing the number of temporary work visas, as the U.S. Congress has done in the past, only exacerbates the problem by introducing more workers who are willing to work for a lower wage.” But, as Professor Mukhopadhyay points out, leveling the playing field by denying employers easy access to guest workers “would…remove incentives for employers to hire highly skilled professionals from abroad if suitable native workers are available for the job.”