You might have thought the prospects for an immigration reform bill were dead on Capitol Hill, but elsewhere in Washington, policymakers could soon retool the immigration system through a different legislative pipeline: an obscure trade deal that treats workers as global commodities.
The Trade in Services Agreement, or “TiSA,” is being drafted up as a set of commercial rules that would shift labor migration by deregulating the global service economy.
Though the deal is still in its preliminary stages, a draft just exposed by WikiLeaks indicates that for certain professionals, the deal would direct countries to “take market access and national treatment commitments for intra-corporate transferees, business visitors and categories delinked from commercial presence: contractual service suppliers and independent professionals.”
In plain English, that means the trade rules would “liberalize” the importation of professional and service workers from a huge range of sectors. Like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TiSA could roll back regulations on, for example, importing a programmer from a company’s Mumbai branch or transferring a bookkeeper to handle overseas accounts. The 38 designated job categories include: Building work, tour guides, hotel and restaurant service workers, computer hardware technicians, and midwives and nurses. Advocates fear this could dramatically broaden the use of unregulated foreign workers in US companies, and undermine already-weak safeguards against the exploitation of immigrants in service fields.
While it’s unclear how much this might apply to US companies if TiSA is ultimately adopted, Daniel Costa at the think tank EPI says the “Movement of Natural Persons” provisions would likely apply to two multi-year “professional” visas, the L-1, for transferring executive, managerial or special “knowledge” workers within a multinational; and the B-1 for “business visitors” temporarily in the US to, for instance, attend a conference.
Under TiSA, writes Costa, companies could more freely use certain visa-based workers. They might then avoid standard “guestworker” rules that require companies to “advertise jobs to U.S. workers, or to hire U.S. workers if they were equally or better qualified for job openings in their own country.”