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Immigration Reform: Essential Workers, August 2001

The issue

Should Congress pass immigration reform legislation to allow foreign workers to relieve the shortage of semi-skilled and unskilled labor in the United States?

Why it's important

There are not enough workers in the United States to meet the labor demand facing the construction industry. Foreign workers are necessary to fill these jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that 50,000 roofing workers will be needed during the next decade to keep pace with anticipated demand for professional roofing services. As long as the national unemployment rate remains at or below 5 percent and job growth in unskilled occupations increases, roofing contractors will continue to have difficulty staffing their companies. Even with recent layoffs in the high-tech sector, there is no reason to believe significant numbers of such workers will opt for the construction industry.

The only immigration program roofing contractors can use to fill jobs is the temporary visa category (H-2B), which is capped at 66,000 per year. It is highly complex, which deters many from applying. Green cards are limited at 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.

NRCA's position

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 semi-skilled and unskilled labor. NRCA and EWIC urge Congress to pass legislation that will allow essential workers to enter the United States legally using simplified, realistic documentation procedures.

Suggested immigration reform:

1. New legal immigration programs based on U.S. worker shortage
  • Short-term: an effective H-2B-like program (the agriculture guest-worker program)
  • Long-term: an employment-based visa that can be converted to permanent residence
  • Permanent: employment-based permanent residence for essential workers granted through an application process that is straightforward and quickly completed
2. Earned adjustment of status for certain undocumented workers in the United States
  • Establish a one-time mechanism to allow undocumented workers in the United States to convert to a legal status - a conditional employment-based status leading to permanent status
  • Earned adjustment initiatives should be matched to employability, although not necessarily a particular employer
3. Workable immigration enforcement system
  • Employer sanctions repeal (per the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986)
  • Employer sanctions repeal should be paired with an updated legal immigration system to reduce undocumented immigration
4. Maintenance of existing worker protections
  • A new immigration system should not result in diminution or expansion of current worker protections
The other side

Opponents of EWIC's proposed immigration reform agenda do not feel there is a work force shortage. Others fear immigrants may take jobs away from U.S. citizens.

(August 2001)

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