Immigration Reform Reaches Important Milestone

When it comes to immigration reform talk, it’s a good sign when businesses and unions reach a consensus.  Late last week, both the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal reported that the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (with the mediation of Senator Charles Schumer D-NY) had reached an agreement on a guest worker program, which will likely serve as part of a roadmap for the Senate’s immigration bill to be released next week. In the past, the challenge of reaching a consensus about guest workers in the U.S. has hampered immigration reform talks.  The fact this milestone was reached last week is a clear indication of how far important movers and shakers in the immigration reform debate have come.  The Associated Press referenced an unreleased AFL-CIO Fact Sheet with the following details in the agreement:

The New “W” Visa

The proposed “W Visa” category for guest workers would go into effect on April 1, 2015:

  • Year 1: 20,000 worker visas allotted
  • Year 2: 35,000 worker visas allotted
  • Year 3: 55,000 worker visas allotted
  • Year 4: 75,000 worker visas allotted
  • Year 5 and beyond: a cap of 200,000 worker visas contingent on market conditions (see below)

Workers under the W visa would be allowed to petition for permanent residency one year after entry in the U.S.  Workers would also be eligible to port from one employer to another.

Carve-Outs

The W Visa would allow for certain concessions, including allotting a third of the visas to small businesses with fewer than 25 workers.  The construction industry would be allotted a maximum of 15,000 visas under this category per year.  Employers who can demonstrate a need and can pay premium wages for guest workers may exceed any visa caps for the year, though those numbers would be subtracted from the following year’s cap (like borrowing against future cap).

Market Conditions

Prevailing wages have been and will continue to be determined by the Department of Labor.  However, market conditions will greatly affect how employers would qualify to bring guest workers into the country during Year 5 and subsequent years.  A new “Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research” division will be created under the auspices of the USCIS and will be completely financed by employer’s visa filing fees.  The new Bureau will set the visa cap yearly based on its research of market conditions including unemployment rates, job openings, employer demand, and other government data.

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Although these are only preliminary reports, the outlook is positive.  Though, some critics are wary of this guest worker agreement.  What are your thoughts?  We’d love to hear from our readers.  Please send us your comments.