Business and Labor Reach an Agreement on Future Immigration

PHOTO: Donohue Trumka

Business and labor leaders have come to an agreement in principle about one of the thorniest parts of immigration reform -- what to do with future flows of immigrant workers.

See Also: Future Immigration Is the Hard Part

A group of Democratic and Republican senators working on an immigration reform bill tapped the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO to develop common principles that could help anchor this aspect of reform legislation. Now, after months of negotiations, the two parties have agreed on several core principles that they've issued in a joint release.

Here are the principles:

1. That American workers are offered jobs before they go to new immigrants. Business and labor want to add a system to better disseminate information about jobs in lesser-skilled occupations, with particular outreach to those in disadvantaged communities.

2. The creation of a new worker visa. The visa would be designed to better respond to the needs of the marketplace, while still protecting worker rights, according to the release. The new visa would allow workers to move beyond a temporary immigration status and give workers the ability to switch jobs, but "in a way that still gives American workers a first shot at available jobs." The number of available visas would also expand and contract along with the economy.

3. The creation of a new federal bureau that would make determinations about the labor needs in the U.S. The bureau would use labor market data to inform the public and Congress about the country's workforce needs, which would be used to help determine future immigration flows. The body would be politically independent, in the manner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the release said.

Sen. Charles Schumer, the informal head of the Senate "gang of eight" working on immigration reform, has encouraged the talks between labor and business, and a legislative aide involved with drafting the Senate bill told ABC/Univision last month that legislators were waiting for a compromise between the two parties.

A guest worker program isn't specifically mentioned in the release, but a new worker visa could potentially function in the same manner. The proposed visa would bring in workers in a more streamlined, easier process than is currently available, and would have the potential for those workers to move to a permanent immigration status.

UPDATE, 4:55pm

We've gotten further clarification about the new visa that business and union leaders are proposing. The visa would have an option for eventual permanent residency and will be different from existing temporary-work programs, according to Ana Avendaño, a top immigration policy aide at AFL-CIO.

"We're not creating a guest worker program," Avendaño said. "Guest worker programs keep workers in permanent temporary status."

Avendaño described the new visa program as something "that respects workers' rights and meets the needs of business," calling the compromise "a really important moment." Avendaño said that the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce haven't come to an agreement on how long a worker using this new visa would need to wait until she or he could apply for permanent residency.

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