Over the weekend, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO reached an agreement on a new type of immigrant worker program that has the potential to reshape the way temporary and permanent immigration visas contribute to American immigration policy. Although this is commonly referred to as future immigration flow, it should not be confused with other debates over increasing visas for high skilled workers or increasing employment based green cards. Instead, the agreement represents an attempt to reshape how business and labor will deal with the incredibly complex issues that are part of filling the demand for less-skilled labor in the United States. In the short term, it sets up a series of concepts that both sides would be willing to support in comprehensive immigration reform—but the Gang of Eight still has to convert those concepts into workable legislation.
The level of agreement, however, is highly detailed. Under the new labor/business plan, Congress could create a new “W” visa that would allow businesses to bring up to 200,000 less-skilled workers annually depending on economic conditions. Visas would be allocated based on priority given to occupations experiencing certified shortages, and workers who received a W visa would be allowed to switch jobs while in the U.S. and could petition for permanent status after completing their term. This is essentially a hybrid program, mixing more flexibility for businesses to recruit needed workers from abroad with more flexibility for those workers once they enter the United States to be more independent. As Slate’s Matt Yglesias explains, the exact number of W visas will vary:
- There will be at most 20,000 W visas in the first year, 35,000 in the second year, 55,000 in the third, and 75,000 in the fourth.
- Starting in the fifth year, the number of W visas will be capped at 200,000, but the actual number will be determined by a new Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Conditions based on labor market conditions.
- In terms of allocating the visas, priority will be given to occupations experiencing certified shortages as per the BILMC.
- If labor market conditions are weak, there could be as few as 20,000 W visas in any given year.
- Importantly permissible wages for W visa holders will be set to try to ensure no negative impact on U.S.-born workers in the same occupational category, which is a fairly tight constraint. Wages will be the greater of the actual wage level paid by the employer to individuals with similar levels of experience or the “prevailing wage” for the occupational category in question.
In response to the business and labor announcement, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press” that the Gang of Eight—a bipartisan group of senators working on comprehensive immigration reform—has reached an agreement on every major policy issue. While Schumer added that the W visa agreement does not mean that the eight senators have reached a final agreement on the bill details yet, he said he was “very optimistic.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—another Gang of Eight member—echoed Schumer’s positive attitude on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think we’ve got a deal, and we’ve got to write the legislation,” Graham said.
In other words, now the ball’s in the senator’s court.
Paul McDaniel also contributed to this blog.