About This Project

Nonimmigrant visa programs that authorize employment, commonly referred to as “guestworker” programs, allow U.S. employers to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis. Limited available data suggest there may be close to two million guestworkers in the United States at any given time, thus the programs are a prominent, though divisive, part of U.S. labor migration policy. Employers and their trade organizations have regularly called for an expansion and deregulation of these programs, while worker advocates have called attention to cases of abuse and exploitation of guestworkers with temporary visas and human trafficking facilitated by lax enforcement and weak legal protections covering workers in the programs.

And yet policymakers and advocates have relatively little information about how employers use the guestworker programs. Government agencies overseeing the programs currently only disclose limited, incomplete data collected from employers. The government data that are publicly released tell us very little about the occupations and employers who are using the visas, and where they’re located, and the wages that are being paid to the foreign workers. This is mainly because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the State Department publish almost nothing about the programs, except for a general annual report and the total number of visas issued. Only the Labor Department publishes detailed labor certifications, but stops short of providing petition or visa data. Without access to substantive information about guestworkers, public debate over any reform of the programs is stymied.

Jobs With Justice Education Fund and the Economic Policy Institute aim to solve for a lack of transparency in the programs by publishing non-public data acquired through extensive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the first time ever on GuestworkerData.org. The project also presents new state-by-state analysis of how employers use three popular visa programs – H-1B visas for college-educated skilled workers; H-2B visas for lesser-skilled, non-agriculture workers; and H-2A visas for agriculture workers.

Our initial analysis breaks down unpublished USCIS microdata to provide an accounting of the number of guestworkers petitioned by firms in each state, along with the top employers and occupations in each program. To enhance public debate on the guestworker programs, the site will be continuously updated with new analysis, including detailed wage analysis and research on how employers’ use of the guestworker programs impacts state labor markets.


Daniel Costa, Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research, Economic Policy Institute

Michael Wasser, Senior Policy Analyst, Jobs With Justice Education Fund


This project was made possible in part from support from the Surdna Foundation. The researchers thank Alyssa Davis, Will Kimball, Greg Klein and Alyssa Tufano for their assistance on the project.


Except where noted,* all results come from a Jobs With Justice Education Fund and Economic Policy Institute analysis of FY13 USCIS I-129 microdata obtained via Freedom of Information Act request. Since employers must receive approval of their I-129 applications by USCIS before the Department of State issues any visas for workers, our analysis provides more accurate results than possible with data publicly available from the Labor Department at this time. Because USCIS failed to provide the requested data on the specific worksite location of H-1B, H-2B, and H-2A workers, we must use the petitioner location as a proxy. “Number of H-1B guestworkers,” for instance, represents the number of H-1B workers petitioned for by firms listing an address in a given state on their I-129 petitions. Due to errors and omissions associated with administrative data, results should be interpreted as conservative estimates.

*H-2B occupation data results come from a Jobs With Justice Education Fund and Economic Policy Institute analysis of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification’s Labor Certification Application (LCA) data, available here. Employers must have an approved labor certification before submitting I-129 applications to USCIS. However, an approved labor certifiation does not guarantee USCIS will approve an employer’s I-129 petition. As such, these results should be considered less precise than results from analysis of USCIS microdata.

Citing the website

Recommended media citation for GuestworkerData.org:

Findings from this website should be attributed to GuestworkerData.org, a collaborative research effort of Jobs With Justice Education Fund and the Economic Policy Institute.

Recommended citation for scholars and advocates:

Wasser, M. & Costa, D. (2014). GuestworkerData.org. Washington, DC: Jobs With Justice Education Fund & Economic Policy Institute.

Reposting and citing charts from GuestworkerData.org:

Please feel free to reprint or post, without prior permission, the charts from this site in unaltered form.

Recommended citation:

Wasser, M. & Costa, D.(2014). “Title of chart”. GuestworkerData.org Washington, DC: Jobs with Justice Education Fund and Economic Policy Institute. Access date. <URL>.

Jobs With Justice Education Fund believes that all workers should have collective bargaining rights, employment security and a decent standard of living within an economy that works for everyone.

The Economic Policy Institute’s mission is to inform and empower individuals to seek solutions that ensure broadly shared prosperity and opportunity.