Prospects for a US Senate deal on an ambitious rewrite of the US’ immigration laws improved markedly as business and labor appeared ready to set aside their differences over a new low-skilled worker program holding up the agreement.
The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) trade union confederation and the US Chamber of Commerce had been fighting over wages for tens of thousands of low-skilled workers, who would be brought in under the new program to fill jobs in construction, hotels and resorts, nursing homes and restaurants and other industries.
However, on Friday, officials from both sides said there was basic agreement on the wage issue, and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said a final deal on the low-wage worker dispute was very close.
That likely would clear the way for Schumer and seven other senators in a bipartisan group to unveil legislation the week of April 8 to overhaul the US immigration system, strengthening the border, cracking down on illegal employers, allowing in tens of thousands of new high and low-skilled workers, and providing a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
“We’re feeling very optimistic on immigration: Aspiring Americans will receive the road map to citizenship they deserve and we can modernize ‘future flow’ without reducing wages for any local workers, regardless of what papers they carry,” AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser said in a statement.
“Future flow” refers to future arrivals of legal immigrants.
Under the emerging agreement between business and labor, a new “W” visa program would bring tens of thousands of lower-skilled workers a year to the US.
The program would be capped at 200,000 a year, but the number of visas would fluctuate, depending on unemployment rates, job openings, employer demand and data collected by a new federal bureau pushed by the labor movement as an objective monitor of the market.
The workers would be able to change jobs and could seek permanent residency. Under current temporary worker programs, workers cannot move from employer to employer and have no path to permanent US residence and citizenship.
And currently there is no good way for employers to bring many low-skilled workers to the US.
An existing visa program for low-wage non-agricultural workers is capped at 66,000 per year and is supposed to apply only to seasonal or temporary jobs.
The Chamber of Commerce said workers would get paid the same wages paid to US workers or the prevailing wages for the industry they are working in, whichever is higher.
The US Department of Labor determines prevailing wage based on rates prevailing in specific localities, so that it would vary from city to city.