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Trade Groups Fight ‘Guest Worker’ Plan

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

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A cap on the number of “guest worker” visas granted to U.S. construction companies under a proposed immigration agreement has industry groups up in arms.

The recent agreement negotiated by the Senate's so-called “Gang of Eight” as part of comprehensive immigration reform puts the number of temporary guest worker visas at up to 200,000 a year—and caps the number for the construction industry at 15,000 annually.

Passport stamp
Monocletophat123 / Wikimedia Commons

Six construction trade associations say a 15,000-a-year cap on temporary guest workers is "unrealistic and destined to fail."

The visas would go to U.S. companies in order to fill low-skilled positions. The Gang of Eight is a bipartisan group of senators working on comprehensive immigration reform: Republicans John McCain (AZ), Lindsay Graham (SC), Marco Rubio (FL) and Jeff Flake (AZ), as well as Democrats Charles Schumer (NY), Richard Durbin (IL), Robert Menendez (NJ) and Michael Bennet (CO).

‘Unrealistic and Destined to Fail’

Residential and commercial construction groups said Wednesday (April 3) that the new lesser-skilled visa program is “simply unrealistic and destined to fail.”

In a joint statement, the six trade associations said the proposed deal on the temporary worker program “repeats mistakes of previous, failed attempts at immigration reform.”

The deal, an agreement between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor union groups, was supposed to clear a path for the comprehensive immigration reform package, according to reports. The Gang of Eight is expected to present the legislation in the coming weeks, reports say.

“The construction industry is committed to finding U.S. workers to fill open positions in our industry,” the trade groups said.

Baytownbert / Wikimedia Commons

The groups argue for an annual visa cap that fluctuates based on economic factors and demand.

“Unfortunately, that is not always possible. For many years, our industry has advocated for comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the needs of our economy and border security, and does not repeat the mistakes of previous reform efforts.”

Fluctuating Cap Urged

In their statement, the construction groups said the program limit was not feasible in light of the nearly six million workers currently employed in the construction industry.  

Instead, the groups argue for an annual visa cap that fluctuates based on a demand-driven system that “reflects the real economic needs of the nation.”

“Without an effective and workable guest worker program, the construction industry will likely not be able to meet the future demand of both the public and private sectors once economic recovery takes hold,” the groups said.

More than 1 million undocumented workers are believed to work in U.S. construction jobs, according to a recent report.

The statement was signed by the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc.; the Associated General Contractors; the National Association of Home Builders; the Leading Builders of America; the National Electrical Contractors Association; and the National Roofing Contractors Association.

In a March 13 letter to a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee, many of those groups outlined the features of a "successful guest worker program." In addition to the fluctuating cap, those elements include:

  • A requirement that employers provide legal foreign workers with the same benefits, workforce protections and wage rates as similarly situated U.S. workers at the same location.
  • A dual-intent process that allows some foreign workers who have demonstrated a commitment to their jobs and communities to petition for a change to permanent legal status in the United States, while incentivizing most foreign workers to return to their home country at the end of their visa period.

Chamber: ‘Sound and Workable’

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents the interests of more than three million businesses and state and local chambers and associations, released this statement defending the program agreement.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce
AgnosticPreachersKid / Wikimedia Commons

The lesser-skilled-worker deal, an agreement between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor union groups, was supposed to clear a path for comprehensive immigration reform.

“To eliminate any confusion on the matter, the U.S. Chamber believes the construct for a new lesser-skilled visa category … is the blueprint for a sound and workable program for the business community,” according to Randy Johnson, the Chamber's senior vice president of Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits.

“The new W-visa classification features a streamlined process for employers to register job openings that can be filled by temporary foreign workers, while still ensuring that American workers get first crack at every job and that wages paid are the greater of actual or prevailing wage levels.

“Importantly, this new visa structure sets the groundwork for moving forward with other important parts of immigration reform.”

Other components of the immigration reform package include increased border security, improvements for the high-skilled visa category, some type of pathway to legalization and eventual citizenship, and a balanced and workable employment verification system, according to the Chamber.


Tagged categories: Commercial Construction; Construction; Contractors; Good Technical Practice; Housing; Regulations; Residential Construction; Workers

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (4/9/2013, 8:27 AM)

Ah, a token, pointless "guest worker" program encompassing a whole 1.5% of the current number of "undocumented workers" working construction in the US.

Comment from John McCormac, (4/9/2013, 9:35 AM)

20 million LEGAL Americans out of work and they continue to cry for more foreign workers? That's absurd. I also don't buy the myth about Americans not wanting to do the work the foreigners will do. Train them; cap the welfare & unemployment pay and require them to work. It has worked in the past, but our sorry government has failed to get non-workers working because they pay them to be lazy. Plus, many able-bodied and willing workers never get the opportunity because illegals are taking those entry-level jobs where they can begin to gain skills to move up the ladder.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (4/10/2013, 11:53 AM)

Sounds a bit like we have the same sort of immigration policies and problems. The news circuits up here in Canada are all abuzz because our fast-tracking program for skilled foreign workers has been used to bring in pump jockeys, waiters/waitresses and other low-skill trades (possibly up to 1/2 of the visas issued) instead of the high skill ones that industry has been looking for.

Comment from peter j grady, (4/11/2013, 6:26 AM)

"low skilled workers" - insulting - i've trained people with 5 years degrees in art design & architecture for 2 years for 40 hours a week, which is comparable to how many college credit hours? and they still dont hold a tool correctly, arent able to cut a straight line, work at pace, have the necessary hand eye coordination, and apptitude it takes do trades related work.......

Comment from M. Halliwell, (4/12/2013, 10:26 AM)

Peter, individual merits aside (yes, I too know folks who have fancy peices of paper who can't find parts of their own anatomy with both hands), I think you'd agree it takes less skill to push a broom, serve tables and pump gas than it does to be an electrician, welder or pipefitter. When you need the latter for major construction projects, having someone use the program intended to get the "skilled trades" you need to bring in a pump jockey gets frustrating.

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