shutterstock_113752681One of the most contentious issues that has stymied past immigration reform proposals is the divide between business and labor over how many and under what conditions the U.S. should admit new immigrants into our labor force. Also known as the “future flow” issue, the conflict lies in the tension between business’ desire to recruit foreign workers and labor’s desire to ensure workforce protections for those working in the U.S.

However, today, in what appears to be a monumental breakthrough, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, released a joint statement of shared principles which lays out their vision on how immigration reform can proceed and satisfy their joint concerns. This is the first time that labor and business have put in writing a joint commitment to commonsense immigration reform. Here is part of that statement:

 “Over the last months, representatives of business and labor have been engaged in serious discussions about how to fix the system in a way that benefits both workers and employers, with a focus on lesser-skilled occupations.  We have found common ground in several important areas, and have committed to continue to work together and with Members of Congress to enact legislation that will solve our current problems in a lasting manner.

Specifically, we agree that the following principles should guide legislation in the complicated and important area of addressing lesser-skilled immigration to our country:

First, American workers should have a first crack at available jobs.  To that end, business and labor are committed to improving the way that information about job openings in lesser-skilled occupations reaches the maximum number of workers, particularly those in disadvantaged communities.

Second, there are instances – even during tough economic times – when employers are not able to fill job openings with American workers.  Those instances will surely increase as the economy improves, and when they occur, it is important that our laws permit businesses to hire foreign workers without having to go through a cumbersome and inefficient process.  Our challenge is to create a mechanism that responds to the needs of business in a market-driven way, while also fully protecting the wages and working conditions of U.S. and immigrant workers. Among other things, this requires a new kind of worker visa program that does not keep all workers in a permanent temporary status, provides labor mobility in a way that still gives American workers a first shot at available jobs, and that automatically adjusts as the American economy expands and contracts.

Third, we need to fix the system so that it is much more transparent, which requires that we build a base of knowledge using real-world data about labor markets and demographics.  The power of today’s technology enables us to use that knowledge to craft a workable demand-driven process fed by data that will inform how America addresses future labor shortages.  We recognize that there is no simple solution to this issue.  We agree that a professional bureau in a federal executive agency, with political independence analogous to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, should be established to inform Congress and the public about these issues.            

We are now in the middle – not the end – of this process, and we pledge to continue to work together and with our allies and our representatives on Capitol Hill to finalize a solution that is in the interest of this country we all love.”

The fact that business and labor have come together to find common ground on this issue is a promising development and yet another sign that federal immigration reform has an excellent chance of becoming a reality in the 113th Congress.

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