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Comprehensive immigration reform, September 2005


To relieve the shortage of semiskilled labor ("essential workers") in the U.S., NRCA urges Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation that would establish adequate legal avenues for foreign workers to fill current and future labor shortfalls.


NRCA's member companies face an enduring shortage of workers as there are not enough domestic workers to meet the growing labor demand facing the roofing industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the roofing industry alone will need 70,000 new workers during the next decade to keep pace with the demand for professional roofing services. But demographic trends are working against the U.S. economy. BLS expects employment in all occupations to rise by 21 million jobs between 2002 and 2012 — from 144 million to 165 million — an increase of 16 percent. However, because of a decline in the native-born U.S. citizens growth rate alongside a spike in retirements, BLS projects 56 million job openings during the decade.

Foreign workers are necessary to help fill the jobs for services and products that U.S. citizens demand, yet these laborers confront extraordinary difficulties obtaining the required documentation to work in the U.S. Today, there are approximately 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S. filling the high demand in the U.S. labor market for low-skilled workers that cannot be met domestically.

Current law provides construction companies the ability to hire foreign workers through a temporary visa program (H-2B), which is capped at 66,000 workers per year. The program is highly complex, and all nonagricultural industries compete for these scarce visas. Furthermore, "green cards" are limited to 5,000 per year for essential workers — currently, there is a five- to 10-year waiting list. These limited programs and the complexity of immigration law make it difficult for roofing contractors nationwide to access a sustainable supply of essential workers.

Recognizing that the U.S. immigration system is broken, Reps. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), recently introduced the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act (HR 2330 and S 1033) to address the problem by establishing new visa categories that would permit more foreign workers to work legally in the U.S. NRCA commends these legislators for addressing the issue and looks forward to working with them and others to improve the bill and enact comprehensive immigration reform.

Principles for reform
  • Reform should be comprehensive, addressing future economic needs and existing undocumented work force already in the U.S.

  • Reform should strengthen national security by screening foreign workers and creating a disincentive for illegal immigration.

  • Reform should strengthen the rule of law by establishing clear, sensible immigration laws that are efficiently and vigorously enforced.

  • Reform should create an immigration system that functions efficiently for employers, workers and government agencies.

  • Reform should create a program that allows hard-working, tax-paying undocumented workers to earn legal status.

  • Reform should ensure U.S. workers are not displaced by foreign workers.

  • Reform should ensure all workers enjoy the same labor law protections.

  • Reform must be comprehensive. Enforcement alone will not solve the problem. Reform must do more than crack down on illegal immigration. That approach has failed every time.
Policy benefits

NRCA serves on the steering committee of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (EWIC) — a coalition of businesses, trade associations and other organizations concerned about the shortage of semiskilled labor. NRCA and EWIC believe if Congress addresses the difficult challenge of reforming the nation's dysfunctional immigration system, important public policy goals will be advanced. First, by passing legislation that would allow essential workers to enter the U.S. legally using simplified, realistic documentation procedures, Congress would send a powerful message that it recognizes the critical role foreign workers play in the economy and society, as well as provide concrete action toward the goal of safeguarding the U.S.'s economic future. Second, such reform will strengthen the nation's security.

Once there are more realistic laws, they can be enforced more effectively with added resources on the border and a new commitment to legality in the interior. Unless the U.S. tackles the problem of illegal immigration in comprehensive fashion, it will continue to be vulnerable to those who would do it harm. NRCA urges Congress to fix an immigration system that serves neither the U.S.'s economic security nor national security needs.

(September 2005)

Click here to read a letter from NRCA and other industry organizations to each member of the U.S. House of Representatives urging them to address immigration reform in a comprehensive fashion.

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