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Contractors Decry Immigration Plan

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

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U.S. construction industry groups are banding together to fight sharp limits on “guest worker” visas in an immigration agreement now emerging in Congress.

The agreement, negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Eight,” would put the number of temporary guest worker visas at up to 200,000 a year—and cap the number for the construction industry at 15,000 annually.

The visas would go to U.S. companies in order to fill low-skilled positions.

But with one recent report estimating the number of undocumented U.S. construction workers at more than one million, such limits are “simply unrealistic and destined to fail,” six construction groups declared last week in a joint statement.

Passport stamp
Monocletophat123 / Wikimedia Commons

Capping guest worker visas for the construction industry at 15,000 a year is "unrealistic and destined to fail," six trade associations contend.

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.

'Repeats Mistakes'

The deal, an agreement between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor group, was supposed to clear a path for a comprehensive immigration reform package.

The emerging agreement is being hashed out by eight senators: 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).

Reports vary on how close the group is to agreement, but some senators said Sunday (April 7) that a bill could be ready as soon as this week.

The six residential and commercial trade associations contend, however, that the proposed deal on temporary workers “repeats mistakes of previous, failed attempts at immigration reform.”

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

Foreign-born workers

The groups want a 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

The program limit is not feasible in light of the nearly six million workers currently employed in the construction industry, the group say.  

Instead, they argue for an annual visa cap that fluctuates acccording to 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.

In a March 13 letter to a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee, construction 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; and
  • 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, while incentivizing most 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 a statement defending the guest worker plan.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce
AgnosticPreachersKid / Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the plan gives American workers "first crack at every job," paid at "the greater of actual or prevailing wage levels."

“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; Housing; Program/Project Management; Regulations; Residential Construction; Workers

Comment from josh hutcheson, (4/10/2013, 7:39 AM)

this is the way it should be give the jobs to the americans first if there is any left over they can go to the visitors

Comment from Louis Partain, (4/10/2013, 8:37 AM)

The contractors (ABC)need a supply of workers they can exploit. I have seen these visa applications, they want workers for minimum wage that are experienced journeymen and then claim that no one wants the jobs. No journeyman painter is going to take a job for $8/hr. The wages in the industry have been driven down over the last 20 years by contractors exploiting workers to make more profit. This is also the reason many young people are not wanting to get into the construction industry as there is no future in it if you cannot make a decent living working at poverty wages.

Comment from Jack Henley, (4/10/2013, 8:56 AM)

At the present time, companies are trying to hire personnel at the rate of $12.00 an hour. This will not get a person above the poverty level. To get to the job, transportation is required, fuel, and don't forget taxes. Contactors are reaping big time profits from this low wage. And, I would like to add that while it may help the 'green cards" it's robing the American workers of a chance to work. I have never seen it in writing the this "business" is supposed to be fair, but changes are in order.

Comment from Jim Johnson, (4/10/2013, 12:49 PM)

There are currently 55 Million Americans out of work, which we who are working are providing tax money for their benefits, such as unemployment pay, food stamps, rent subsidy, etc. The Administration just announced they are going to hire over 100,000 Navigators to assist people in filling out mandatory insurance forms, and these people are going to be paid from $20 to $48 per hour. How about the lowest paid worker in construction getting paid $20 an hour. Do you suppose there would be a shortage of workers? The illegal aliens have less education, less experience and less overall knowledge of the industry, but they also will work for far less money. To support giving a job to an illegal over an unemployed American borders on insanity! It there are to be Guest Workers they should only be in specific situations where that individual has knowledge and education that is in short supply. As usual, the politicians will pay little attention to what makes sense or what the American people want.

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