The U.S. government has started ensuring that temporary workers leave the country when their work visas expire - an enforcement that to date has been lacking.
As of Dec. 8, temporary workers who entered the country at the San Luis or Douglas ports of entry are required to register their final departure.
The pilot program for exiting H-2A and H-2B temporary workers is expected to last about a year, said Joanne Ferriera, spokeswoman with U.S. Customs and Border Protection
H-2A visas are for temporary workers in agricultural jobs, while H-2B visas are for temporary, non-agricultural workers.
"We'll evaluate how the program worked, and from that we'll make a decision whether it continues or expands," Ferriera said.
The new program applies only to workers entering the country on and after that date, Ferriera said. Frequent border crossers and commuters do not need to register every departure.
"The program will also help secure U.S. borders more effectively and streamline existing guest-worker programs," according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection press release.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank on immigration, said the pilot program is a useful exercise if the long-term goal is to check out all temporary visitors.
Currently, all visitors entering the U.S. are supposed to return their I-94 forms on their way out of the country.
But that has not been the case.
"Even people coming to Disneyland or whatever . . . should be checked out when they leave, and that's not what we do now," Krikorian said. "The way we do it now is just a complete Mickey Mouse system. We should have an electronic checkout system."
He said such a program is needed.
"A checkout pilot program is important if you are going to have a guest-worker program, but it's not going to fix the problem," said Krikorian, who added that he doesn't think the U.S. needs guest workers. Krikorian said guest-worker programs create more immigration.
"Think about it. If you are a guest worker, you come and go several times, you like it here . . . where schools are better, health care is better, so you want to stay," he said. "This program is intended to prevent that kind of thing."
For Mexican authorities, the new system could help improve the system.
"It could facilitate the assistance provided by the consulate in the future," said Socorro Córdova, a spokeswoman for the Mexican consular network in Arizona.
Córdova said the Mexican Consulates in Douglas and Yuma are monitoring the new process and offering help to workers returning to Mexico.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 205,000 H-2 guest workers crossed into the U.S. in the 2009 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30.
Under the pilot program, workers with H-2A and H-2B visas must also depart through one of the exit kiosks at the ports of entry where the program is being tested, Ferriera said. The kiosks have both English and Spanish instructions.