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What are Guest Workers?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term “guest worker” is a euphemism for workers of foreign origin who come to a country specifically for its job prospects. They run the gamut from highly skilled individuals who are actively recruited to fill positions to illegal migrant laborers who work for shockingly low wages in farm fields. There is a great deal of controversy over guest workers worldwide, as part of a larger discussion of immigration policies. Many people support the creation of specific guest working programs to regulate their admission and use, while others oppose all guest workers, on various grounds.

People have been seeking their fortune in other countries for hundreds of years, and in some cases guest workers have been actively invited to a nation. The United States, for example, heavily recruited immigrants throughout the 19th century, enticing them with promises of homesteads and good jobs in an attempt to improve the American economy. Guest workers have historically flooded from less developed nations to more developed ones, taking advantage of perceived opportunities in the places they migrate to.

In many countries, there are several different ranks of guest workers. Some, for example, are issued some form of permanent residence card which allows them to live and work in the host country as long as they would like to. Others are given temporary visas which specify that they are coming into the country to work. Many more are illegal, taking their chances with deportation in the hopes of raising money to send home or bring back with them, and they work in low-paying service industry jobs as maids, farm hands, and construction workers, regardless as to their skill level.

People who are concerned about workers' rights find guest workers especially troubling. Even when they enter a country legally, they are often exploited. In the United States, for example, several cases of human trafficking have been tied to workers legally brought into the country with work visas. These legal workers were unaware of their rights and protections under the law, and they were essentially treated like slaves by their employers, who threatened to deport them if they protested. Illegal workers are in an even more tenuous position, and they often work for minimal pay in dangerous positions.

Advocates of organized guest worker programs argue that these workers can perform jobs which citizens of a country are not willing to do, and that their skills can be extremely valuable. Opponents disagree, arguing that these workers are used because they are willing to work in unsafe conditions for minimal wages.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Rundocuri — On Oct 28, 2014

@spotich5- As long as your aunt is sure that the guest workers are here legally and have the correct paperwork, she should be fine hiring these potential employees.

By Spotiche5 — On Oct 27, 2014

My aunt has a business in a tourist area, and she has noticed that there are a lot of guest workers in this area. Since there is plenty of work available and often not enough people looking for work in this town, she is thinking about hiring some guest workers. Is this a good idea?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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