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Comprehensive immigration reform, September 2003


To relieve the shortage of semiskilled and unskilled labor in the United States, NRCA proposes that Congress should pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation that would establish adequate legal avenues for foreign workers.


NRCA's member companies face an enduring shortage of workers, as there simply are not enough domestic workers to meet the growing labor demand facing the roofing industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that in the roofing industry alone, 50,000 workers will be needed during the next decade to keep pace with the demand for professional roofing services. Foreign workers are necessary to fill these jobs, yet these laborers confront extraordinary difficulties to becoming citizens or obtaining the required documentation to work in the United States. There are approximately 10 million undocumented workers (about whom authorities know very little) in the United States today, 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. Further, "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 Border Security and Immigration Improvement Act (H.R. 2899 and S. 1461) to address the problem by establishing new visa categories that would permit more foreign workers to work legally in the United States. 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.

Policy benefits

NRCA is a member of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (EWIC), a coalition of businesses, trade associations and other organizations concerned about the shortage of semiskilled and unskilled labor. NRCA and EWIC believe that 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 United States legally using simplified, realistic documentation procedures, Congress would send a powerful message that it recognizes the critical role foreign workers play in our economy and society, as well as provide concrete action toward the goal of safeguarding America's economic future. Second, such reform will strengthen our nation's security. Unless America tackles the problem of illegal immigration in comprehensive fashion, we will continue to be vulnerable to those who would do us harm. NRCA urges Congress to fix an immigration system that serves neither America's economic security nor national security needs.

(September 2003)

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