Spotlighting an aspect of the nation’s immigration debate that has received little attention, the Communications Workers executive board voted April 18 to lobby against a guest worker program which allows employers to create a temporary workforce of tens of thousands of lower-paid high-tech “guest workers.”

Under the H1-B program, employers are allotted visas that they control to hire programmers, software engineers, technical writers and other highly skilled workers from other countries. The employers use those guest workers, the CWA says, “to turn tens of thousands of permanent, good paying jobs into temporary jobs.” H1-B visa workers have no path to citizenship.

CWA reports that the H1-B workers are paid substantially less than U.S. tech workers. The union is supporting a bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) that caps the number of H1-B visas issued and includes a provision requiring employers to pay workers on these visas prevailing wages, similar to the Davis-Bacon Act.

The executive board resolution blasted President George W. Bush’s plan to expand all guest worker programs and said all immigrant workers to the U.S. should be provided a path to legalization.

The CWA has mounted organizing drives among high-tech workers, especially in the telecommunications and computer industries. But it frequently encounters employers who abuse the high-tech “H1-B” program. Expanding the H1-B program is the top legislative priority of Microsoft Corp., according to the website of WashTech, CWA’s Washington state-based union for high-tech workers.

“Workers’ rights must be at the heart of immigration reform. That’s why it is critical that Congress reject the Bush administration efforts to expand ‘guest worker’ programs, particularly the H-1B program and related visas provided to employers for technology workers,” CWA said.

The high-tech guest worker visa program undermines the incentive of employers to conduct training programs, CWA spokesperson Jeff Miller noted.

PAI contributed to this report.