Comprehensive immigration reform, August 2007
To relieve the shortage of lesser-skilled labor ("essential worker") 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
The construction industry has been hit particularly hard by demographic trends.
Construction's put-in-place annual value grew by 144 percent between 1993 and 2006.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, construction value was $491 billion in 1993;
in 2006, it was $1.2 trillion. Construction growth easily outpaced overall gross
domestic product growth, which grew approximately 87 percent during the same period.
Data also demonstrate that construction outpaced other industry sectors in employment
growth during that 13-year period. In 1993, construction firms employed 4,779,000
people, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In 2006, total construction
employment stood at 11.8 million, according to data released by the Pew Hispanic
Center. That represents a 147 percent increase in employment during the same 13-year
period. This added volume has translated into a heavy reliance on foreign labor,
particularly from Latin America. According to the Pew data, Latinos accounted for
38 percent of the 2006 U.S. employment growth. The same study noted that employment
in the construction industry grew by 559,000 workers in 2006, and that Hispanic
workers, mostly foreign born, were responsible for nearly two-thirds (66.5 percent)
of the increase in industry employment. About 60 percent of that increase, or 335,000,
went to foreign-born Hispanics. And most of these foreign-born Hispanic workers
are recent arrivals, having arrived in the U.S. since 2000. The number of recent
arrivals employed in the construction industry rose by 255,000 in 2006, representing
45.6 percent of the total increase in industry employment last year. In total, the
construction industry employed 2.9 million Hispanic workers in 2006.
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. BLS
projects an additional 70,000 workers in the roofing industry alone will be needed
by 2012 to keep pace with the demand for professional roofing services. An NRCA
member survey conducted in the fall of 2006 revealed 69 percent of members are not
able to "acquire new field workers in a timely manner" to enable them to perform
their work. The survey also revealed 46 percent of NRCA members have lost work because
they were not able to perform a contract because of a worker shortage. For these
reasons, NRCA continues to see the percentages of immigrant workers in the roofing
industry increase, and its members continue to appreciate and welcome the contributions
of immigrant workers.
The principal reason for this shortfall is that the native-born work force is growing
older and will soon begin to contract. According to U.N. estimates released in February
2005, the fertility rate in the U.S. is projected to fall below "replacement" level
by 2015, declining to 1.9 children per couple. Meanwhile, two incompatible trends
are emerging. First, the labor force continues to age. BLS projects the annual growth
rate of the 55-and-older group will be 4.1 percent, or four times the rate of the
overall labor force the next decade. This group will cycle out of the labor force
at escalating rates. By contrast, the annual growth rate of the 25-to-54-year age
group will be 0.3 percent and that of the age group consisting of 16-to-24-year-olds
will be essentially flat. And second, the U.S. economy keeps generating robust labor
demand for construction services.
Foreign workers are necessary to help fill the jobs for services and products that
U.S. citizens demand, yet these laborers confront extraordinary difficulties to
obtaining the required documentation to work in the U.S. Current law provides construction
companies the ability to hire foreign workers through a temporary, seasonal worker
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.
Further, "green cards" are limited to 5,000 per year for essential workers, yet
the economy is generating 500,000 new jobs annually. 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. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), along with Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Ted Kennedy
(D-Mass.), introduced legislation earlier this year to address the problem by establishing
new visa categories that would permit more foreign workers to work legally in the
U.S. Unfortunately, the legislation failed to gain passage in the Senate, but NRCA
commends these legislators for addressing the issue and looks forward to working
with them and others in the future to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
Principles for reform
NRCA's guiding motive has been to reform U.S. immigration policy in a manner that
facilitates a sustainable work force for the U.S. economy while ensuring national
security and prosperity. Toward that goal, NRCA endorses the following principles:
- Reform should be comprehensive, addressing future economic needs and the existing
undocumented work force already in the U.S.
- Reform should strengthen national security by providing for the screening of 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 that 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; there
must be more reform than simply cracking down on illegal immigration. That approach
has failed every time.
NRCA co-chairs the steering committee of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition
(EWIC), a coalition of businesses, trade associations and other organizations concerned
about the shortage of lesser-skilled 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 realistic laws, they can be enforced 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.