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ABC March 13 joined five other construction groups to send a letter to members of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Workforce Protections outlining the features of a successful guestworker program in response to a hearing, "Examining the Role of Lower-Skilled Guest Worker Programs in Today's Economy.” 

In the letter, the groups reiterated their position that any viable plan to fix the immigration system must: strengthen national security; create a role for employers in an employment system that functions in a fair; efficient and workable way; address the realities of future workforce needs in the less-skilled sectors; and find a reasonable, rational way of dealing with the current undocumented population in the United States. 

The groups pointed to the anticipated shortage of qualified workers and noted that the immigrant workforce has played a vital role in the growth and sustainability of the construction industry. The letter also noted that a major deficiency in the 1986 immigration law was its lack of a legal program to create a pathway for foreign workers to enter the United States to work, resulting in foreign workers entering the country illegally. Congress attempted to resolve this deficiency in 1990 by creating the H-2B classification for low-skilled non-agricultural workers, but the program is capped at 66,000 visas per year and is not market-based – which means the supply almost never matches the demand.

“To resolve this problem going forward, any future immigration law must include a new market-driven program to provide a legal path for foreign workers to enter the United States when the economy needs them, with fewer entering when the economy contracts,” the groups wrote.

A successful future guestworker program must include:

  • An annual visa cap that fluctuates based on a demand-driven system that reflects the real economic needs of the nation.
  • An opportunity for employers to petition for an approved slot that allows them to hire visa-holding foreign workers, and replace those workers if/when they move onto another approved job slot.
  • A time period for job slot approvals, and approved visas, that reflects a long enough time period to ensure that the training investment made by employers is not lost.
  • A program that requires employers to treat these legal foreign workers in the same manner as U.S. workers—with all the same benefits, workforce protections and wage rates as similarly situated workers at the same location.
  • A dual-intent process that allows some foreign workers who have demonstrated a commitment to their jobs and their communities to choose a petition for a change of status to a permanent legal status in the United States, while also incentivizing most foreign workers to return to their home country at the end of their visa period.