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Labor and Business Come Together on Immigration Reform

In a gridlocked Congress, immigration reform is one of the few policy issues where momentum continues to build and where a fragile bipartisan consensus is holding together.

Last week, after months of discussion between business and labor groups about the contours of a future guest worker program, the AFL-CIO and U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced a joint statement of shared immigration reform principles.  

The two groups proposed “the creation of a professional bureau in a federal executive agency to [evaluate labor market needs]…with a system that  provides for lesser-skilled visas that respond to employers’ needs while protecting the wages and working conditions of lesser-skilled workers – foreign or domestic.”

The compromise satisfies the labor movement’s primary goal of protecting U.S.-born workers and business’ main goal of having access to foreign labor when its needs are not met by U.S. workers.

While negotiations between the two groups are continuing, they have already agreed to three main immigration reform principles:

  • “American workers should have first crack at available jobs.” Both groups agreed to improve the dissemination of information on low-skilled jobs to U.S. workers, including those in disadvantaged communities.

 

  • “It is important that our laws permit businesses to hire foreign workers without having to go through a cumbersome and inefficient process.” The statement of principles hinted at a new immigrant worker visa, which would eventually give guest workers a path to citizenship and would allow guest workers some flexibility in changing employers rather than tying them to a specific employer. The statement also mentions that the number of visas issued to guest workers could change depending on the economy and the labor market.

 

  • The final point digs into the details of a system that would track the U.S. economy’s need for guest workers. As the joint statement says, “The power of today’s technology enables us to…craft a workable demand-driven process fed by data that will inform how America addresses future labor shortages. We recognize that there is no simple solution to this issue.” They call for a new agency similar to the Bureau of Labor Statistics that would make periodic recommendations to Congress on the economy’s labor needs.

Immigrant workers can make contributions throughout the labor market, helping to strengthen the economy in sectors from high-tech to agriculture. The U.S. agricultural system -- particularly dairy, fruits, and vegetables -- is dependent on immigrant labor.

With a Senate immigration bill expected as early as the end of March, this new statement of agreement between major business and labor groups bodes well for reform.

At this point, genuine immigration reform is far from a foregone conclusion. But as Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said, “All of the pieces of the immigration reform puzzle are falling into place — on and off Capitol Hill.”

 

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