The recent agreement between labor and business groups on a guest worker program for low-skilled labor has really carved a space for the Senate to proceed with an immigration reform bill, mainly because it did what no other talks succeeded in doing in years past.
“The agreement is huge,” says Ana Avendaño, Assistant to the President and Director of Immigration and Community Action for the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest union, which recently reached the agreement with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The momentum is unstoppable; and we have no doubt we are going to have an immigration bill,” adds Avendaño.
Here are four reasons why.
Agreement on visa number increase
“First, what is significant is the way both groups have reached an agreement on how to structure the number of visas,” says Kristian Ramos, Policy Director for the New Policy Institute’s (NPI) 21st Border Initiative. “In 2007, one of the reasons legislation died is that business had one number and labor had another,” Ramos explained, adding, “the fact they were able to come to terms on numbers was pragmatic, clever and an indication these guys are serious.”
Under the deal proposed by the groups, a “W Visa program” could go into effect on April of 2015, and it would allow employers to petition for lesser-skilled foreign workers for jobs in construction, as well as janitorial or retail services. The program would start at 20,000 visas, then go up to 35,000 the next year, 55,000 the next, 75,000 the following and continue until 200,000.
Independent Bureau to determine immigrant labor needs
A second reason labor and business agreed to this, says AFL-CIO’s Avendaño, is because determining what sector of industry needs additional workers will be determined by a new entity, the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research. This is an independent, non-partisan group of experts, such as demographers and economists, who will study and determine labor needs. “Congress on the House side is currently responsible for setting the number of visas, and the cap hasn’t changed in more than a decade,” says Ramos.
“Right now we don’t even know who is here on work visas or when people leave,” adds Avendaño. “This will bring transparency, and it will be scientific – there is a shortage of elder care workers, you address it, same with nannies or other positions,” she adds.
Guest worker visa not limited to one employer
For workers themselves, the third reason is one of the most important. Unlike now, immigrants under this proposed guest worker visa will not be limited to one employer. “This is a huge change; as long as employers held the power, it was impossible for workers to exercise their rights to fair pay or expose worker violations,” says Avendaño. “Portability is a big deal for labor,” adds Ramos. In addition, guest worker wages must be equal to those of U.S. workers, so this will not undercut the wages of current employees.
Workers request own green cards
And last but certainly not least, a fourth component on this deal is that workers will be able to self-petition for a green card after one year, and will not be dependent on employers. “The creation of an entire new visa system is a significant undertaking,” says Ramos.
For immigration reform advocates such as Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, this agreement between labor and business is “a historic breakthrough.”
“This breakthrough significantly increases the likelihood of reform with a new roadmap to citizenship for 11 million immigrants,” said Sharry.