Immigrant Labor

The U.S. economy has long been powered by migrants and immigrants. New populations provided diversity, increased innovation, and created a pool of new entrepreneurs. But they also depressed wages in some sectors, including service, agriculture, and engineering. Some immigrants achieved success. Others experienced hardship. Most sought expanded opportunities for their children.

F-1 to H-1B Visa

American universities continued to be a magnet for immigrants. Yogeeswaran Ganesan was born in India and came to the U.S. on an F-1 student visa to study in the nanoscience program at Rice University. Upon graduation, Intel hired him as a semiconductor research scientist and obtained for him an H-1B non-immigrant visa.

Yogeeswaran Ganesan and his mother, Palani, Tamil Nadu, India, 1985

Yogeeswaran Ganesan and his mother, Palani, Tamil Nadu, India, 1985

Courtesy of S. Ganesan Family

To obtain non-immigrant visas for foreign employees to work in the U.S., companies must prove there is a shortage of qualified citizens. This is often controversial.

Silicon wafer with Ph.D. thesis micro-electromechanical devices, 2008

Yogeeswaran Ganesan’s employee badge, 2014

E-2 Visa

Shigefumi Tachibe was born in Japan and trained in Italy. He came to the U.S. on an E-2 “investor” visa to set up and run a high-end sushi restaurant in Beverly Hills, California. Chef Tachibe paired his food memories of home with Los Angeles experiences to create new fusion dishes.

Chef Shigefumi Tachibe, 1983

Chef Shigefumi Tachibe, 1983

Fish butchering knife, 1980

Fish butchering knife, 1980

Chaya Brasserie menu, about 1998

Chaya Brasserie menu, about 1998

H-1A Visa to Permanent Resident

To relieve a nursing shortage, the federal government gave special visas to foreign nurses and eventually allowed them to become permanent residents. Filipina nurses like Maria Jayme were highly valued because they spoke English.

Maria Jayme’s capping ceremony, Philippines, 1991

Maria Jayme’s capping ceremony, Philippines, 1991

Maria Jayme’s nurse’s cap, 1991

Counterfeit Passport to Citizenship

Operators of a garment sweatshop in El Monte, California, doctored U.S. tourist visas with new photographs, enabling them to smuggle workers into the U.S. In 1995, the shop was raided. The workers were given S visas, so they could be witnesses. Ultimately they won permanent resident status and then citizenship.

Doctored passport, about 1992

El Monte sweatshop worker’s rice bowl, about 1994

El Monte sweatshop, sewing room, 1995

El Monte sweatshop, sewing room, 1995

No Visa

Some migrants illegally came to the U.S. seeking opportunity, often taking jobs in low-wage areas, such as agriculture, garment production, construction, and landscaping. To enter the country, many risked crossing the desert that forms the U.S./Mexican border. Hundreds died in the attempt each year.

Migrants illegally cross the Mexican border into the United States, 2014

Migrants illegally cross the Mexican border into the United States, 2014

Courtesy of Getty Images

Immigrant’s sneakers, about 2010

Immigrant’s sneakers, about 2010

For more information on this complex topic, visit the exhibition's dedicated Immigrant Labor page.