Let the Workers Lead the Way

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Interested in the U.S. immigration debate? This week, our guest writer Michael Maxey, shares his idea to address sociopolitical problems being experienced by Central Americans.

The critical question in the current U.S. immigration debate is: How to help thousands of Central Americans faced with a decision to stay in their home country or risk the danger of undocumented immigration to the United States? How do we help them meet short-term financial needs but encourage their long-term participation in their home countries?

I believe we achieve this by creating an effective guest worker program that has sufficient incentives to ensure workers return home with the financial assets required to promote national economic growth. With a guest worker program that includes a housing fund financed by the workers and their employers, a new home in Central America can become a reality. The volume of homes that could be financed by this system could be the impetus for change in the Central America home mortgage market structure, free up equity in real estate for investment, and promote economic development as others seek a more secure business environment.

According to Yale Economics Professor George Priest, economic growth occurs; where institutional structures exist that encourage investment in innovation, strengthening of competitive skills, and access to markets. High levels of corruption, increased social and political risk, and ineffective government policies increase barriers to investment and constrain economic growth. Dynamic, engaged people can make the changes necessary to promote economic development. The people most likely to migrate – the ambitious, hard working, and family-oriented – are the type of citizens needed for long-term development in Central America. By helping them meet immediate needs and have long-term financial assets we can promote secondary mortgage markets, strengthen rule of law, contract enforcement and help put in place the necessary regulatory mechanisms for a functioning real estate mortgage and equity lending market.

The proposed program would finance modular housing construction in Central America through an initiative managed by the US modular home industry with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other donors. This program would be a win for Central American guest workers, private housing industry, Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) and U.S. communities dealing with unregulated immigration.

Failing to act will ensure that the current trends in undocumented immigrants continues and as the burden, which is borne almost exclusively by local communities, increases there will be an increasing likelihood of a voter backlash which could make both sides more entrenched and less likely to address immigration. We should proactively seek solutions to this problem and letting the workers themselves lead the way to a return to their home countries is a positive, humane and economically productive way to approach immigration reform.

Michael Maxey is an Economic Development Advisor with over thirty years of experience in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East. To find out more about Michael please visit his LinkedIn page. For his latest analysis on Central American immigration issues, check out his website.

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