Immigration Reform Negotiations Highlight Labor and Employment Concerns

By Emily Kaiser

Ongoing negotiations between major U.S. business and labor interests have reflected the polarizing nature of immigration reform, while also suggesting areas of potential compromise, as lawmakers work to draft legislation that can win support from both sides of the aisle.  Representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. have held meetings on immigration reform for the last several months, discussing labor and employment concerns that will be critical components of any successful immigration reform legislation.  Meanwhile, bipartisan groups in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives are drafting immigration reform proposals, with the Senate group aiming to present its proposal as early as next month.

One area where labor and business groups agree is the need for a path to legal employment and immigration status for the millions of undocumented foreign laborers currently working in the United States.  Labor unions believe that a path to legal status will ensure foreign workers’ access to labor and employment rights.  Businesses believe that it will stabilize the low-skilled foreign workforce, which plays a significant role in the U.S. agriculture and service sectors.

The U.S. Chamber and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. have also agreed on principles for a revised temporary worker program that would provide labor to blue collar sectors.  In February, the groups released a joint statement advocating for a program that gives first priority to hiring American workers, allows a simplified recruitment process for foreign workers when labor shortages exist, and improves the system of labor market data collection.  Their viewpoints diverge, however, concerning the appropriate number of temporary visas that should be granted to foreign workers.  The U.S. Chamber has estimated that approximately 400,000 temporary worker visas would meet U.S. labor demands.  The A.F.L.-C.I.O. reportedly maintains that only tens of thousands of temporary visas should be issued.