Low-Skill Visas Could Derail Immigration Reform

Thursday, 04 Apr 2013 12:48 PM

By David Yonkman, Washington Correspondent

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A dispute between business and labor over the number of visas available for low-skilled workers is threatening to derail immigration reform in the Senate.

A key bipartisan group of eight senators said earlier this week that they had resolved issues between business and labor and only needed to finalize the details of the bill’s language.

The “Gang of 8” had hoped to roll out their bill when Congress returns to session next week. However, business groups — led by the construction industry — are now hedging over the number of work visas that would be available in the agreement.

“Capping the amount of visas for the construction industry at only 15,000 in an industry that currently employs nearly 6 million workers is simply unrealistic and destined to fail,” a coalition of builders’ groups said in a statement.

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“A guest worker program that fails to provide a sufficient number of visas to meet market demand as the construction sector recovers will inevitably make it harder to fill critical labor openings and make it impossible to secure the border.”

Labor unions, on the other hand, are optimistic in their success at capping the total number of low-skilled foreign work visas at 200,000. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement that a “new visa program is only a small part of our campaign to build a common sense immigration system.”

Such differences could stand in the way of a bill even being introduced in the Senate next week, a leading think tank opposed to increasing the number of work visas tells Newsmax.

“This is not some peripheral part of the bill,” says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “It is very important.”

“This is one of the many time bombs in the process that could go off and blow the whole thing up,” he said.

A national employer advocacy group called the Gang of 8’s progress promising, but criticized the “outsized” role of the unions in the process and the limited number of work visas.

“The Republican senators in the Gang of Eight did the best they could under the circumstances,” said Immigration Works USA President Tamar Jacoby. “But the deal is skewed by union demands — and several of its most ingenious, most thoughtful elements will not work as intended on the ground, primarily because the program is too small.”

“The stakes could hardly be higher. Without a workable temporary visa program, the nation can have no hope of ending illegal immigration,” Jacoby said.

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