Keeping in mind one of the key priorities for a comprehensive immigration reform bill, businesses and labor unions announced on Thursday an agreement on the process to bring in low skilled workers to the United States.
Sens. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), working on the comprehensive immigration bill made a request based on which the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO had a series of negotiations. The announcement was a result of these negotiations.
The announcement was on the principal process but both groups failed to reach a consensus on some of their basic disagreements, like rules governing the entry of low-skilled workers into the United States. Though the groups have not reached an agreement on two important aspects of the issue – the number of guest worker visas that would be granted and the duration of stay in the country for these visa holders – a major point to note is the fact that the AFL-CIO has gone on record supporting the entry on low-skilled workers, something it was against in the past.
The joint statement also includes the intention to work on protecting the working conditions and wages of both US labor and the temporary labor that comes into the country, generally to fill posts in hotels and resorts, janitorial posts, and in industries that require low-skilled labor, like the meat packing industry.
Both parties were unable to reach a consensus on the number of visas to be given, with the Chamber wanting to be more generous and the unions wanting to set strict limits. The Chamber wants a commission to be set up to work out the numbers, while the unions think this is not a great idea and will not work.
A major point of contention is how employers should prove that they have advertised the position well enough so that American workers are aware of it. It is only in the absence of American workers not being available or not being willing to take up these jobs can an employer look outside the country to fill the labor needs.
Another unresolved issue was whether the foreign labor that enters the country would have to leave after a set period or whether they would have an option to legalize their position in the country as permanent residents who can later seek US citizenship.
There are several gaps to be filled in this agreement. However, both groups have agreed that the first preference should be given to Americans by advertising the positions more effectively. They have also agreed that for certain positions it may not be possible to get American workers. Their statement said, “We have found common ground in several important areas and have committed to continue to work together and with member of Congress to enact legislation that will solve our current problems in a lasting manner. We are now in the middle – not the end – of this process.”
It is left up to the Senators to work on fleshing out this agreement. But a major achievement to be noted is that both have agreed on the principles. As Senator Schumer said, “The fact that business and labor have agreed on principles is a major step forward. While the devil will be in the details in terms of fleshing these principles out, our staffs have had very productive discussions with both sides this week. We are very hopeful that an agreement can be reached on a specific proposal in the next few weeks.”