Business Groups Heartened by House Agreement on Worker Visas

Sunday, 19 May 2013 11:06 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Business groups say they are 'excited' about changes that House negotiators made to the low-skilled visa program outlined in the Senate's "Gang of Eight" comprehensive immigration-reform plan.

Geoff Burr, vice president of federal affairs for the Associated Builders & Contractors, said business lobbyists are "excited about the House Republican guest-worker plan because it seems it like it will address the deficiencies of the Senate bill in a positive way."

Lobbyists for business groups have been concentrating their efforts in the House, and were rewarded Thursday by the news that negotiators agreed in principle to consider both Democratic and Republican proposals on the temporary worker issue, The Hill reports.

Business groups are looking to expand the number of special visas to be permitted, and are critical of an initial plan, worked out between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, that they say give special treatment to the construction industry.

The Senate legislation has been progressing through the Judiciary Committee, but a deal to consider both parties' proposals in that panel could slow the bill down, Burr said.

Burr said businesses are also encouraged that the Republicans in the House have said that their intention is to not single out the construction industry with a cap on visas.

The Senate bill caps visas for immigrants working in the construction industry at 15,000 a year, but some lobbyists anticipate that the cap won't make it into the House Republican plan.

The AFL-CIO wants the final immigration reform bill to stick to the Senate's version.

"The fact that House Republicans are unwilling to accept the bipartisan compromise crafted by the AFL-CIO and the Chamber shows they are still more wedded to extreme ideology than constructive legislating," said union spokesman Jeff Hauser.

One pro-business group countered that the House version of the bill is an improvement over the Senate bill.

"I'm convinced in a Republican House, that Republican members will realize that the only way we can stop illegal immigration going forward is an improved temporary worker program and they will go with the House Republicans' version of that program," said Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA.

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