On Feb. 18, 2021, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 (H.R. 1177/S. 348) to implement President Biden’s proposal on immigration reform. ABC is concerned that this proposal largely ignores the drivers of illegal immigration and the enforcement needed to prevent the circumvention of our nation’s borders and immigration laws over the coming years. The legislation seeks to create a pathway to citizenship for more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, including those currently authorized to legally live and work in the country through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and temporary protected status designation.
House and Senate Democrats also attempted to include immigration reforms that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants through the budget reconciliation process. Those attempts were, however, found in violation of the Senate’s Byrd rule and rejected by the Senate parliamentarian.
ABC believes any proposal that is to pass Congress must implement bipartisan solutions to fix our nation’s failing immigration system. While ABC has advocated for permanent protections of DACA and temporary protected status recipients that contribute to the country’s workforce and economy, including the more than 100,000 in the construction industry, comprehensive immigration reform must include necessary improvements to our country’s visa system that anticipates the future flow of immigrants to the United States and eliminates incentives for individuals to illegally enter the country in search of work opportunities. Despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our industry, construction continues to face worker shortages that have numbered in the hundreds of thousands each year. Providing employers with a flexible visa system that allows sufficient access to permanent and temporary foreign workers must be included in any final proposal to fix our immigration system.
Currently, the best employment-based visa program available for the construction industry continues to be the H-2B visa program, which allows foreign nationals into the United States to perform temporary, nonagricultural work. However, the program can often be a tedious, time-consuming, expensive process for many contractors. It typically caps its visas at 66,000 per year, though Congress has allowed for supplemental cap increases, including the authority to issue more than 130,000 in 2020. In 2020, though, only 3,854 of these H-2B visas were certified for construction laborers.
The departments of Homeland Security and Labor recently released a new H-2B visa rule authorizing 35,000 supplemental temporary work visas for hiring through Sept. 30. As of May 18, employers can begin petitioning for the visas. The supplemental allocation includes 23,500 visas for returning workers who received an H-2B visa in the previous three fiscal years. Another 11,500 are designated for nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti, to address irregular migration from those countries. However, the rule also added a requirement to contact AFL-CIO if the occupation is traditionally or customarily unionized. The Office of Foreign Labor Certification posted a list of occupations that need to comply with the requirement, including construction.
ABC supports the Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act (H.R. 4288), introduced by Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Pa., to help address the workforce needs of the construction industry. This legislation would create a new visa program, capped at 85,000 positions annually, to help address the workforce needs of the construction industry by providing critical access to temporary workers.
The enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws will also be crucial in preventing future illegal immigration into the United States and holding those who violate immigration policies accountable.