Support Marketplace

Guest workers remain sticking point in immigration debate

Immigrant laborers Jose (R) from Mexico and Christian from Honduras perform 'house leveling' work on a home in New Orleans, Lousiana.

Immigration is expected to be front and center when Congress returns from its spring break this week. A bill could be introduced in the Senate any day now. One of the hallmarks of the plan is a deal to bring in more low-skilled guest workers, but thre are sticking points.

The biggest one centers around how many visas we need for low-skilled guest workers -- immigrants who work in restaurants or construction. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor leaders hammered out an agreement on that question, capping visas for construction workers at 15,000.

Jeff Shoaf of the Associated General Contractors of America says that’s not nearly enough.

“15,000 equates to about 0.25 percent of total construction employment today," he explains. "That seems like an extremely small number to be your cap.”

Shoaf wants more construction worker visas, a higher cap. He’s going to lobby hard for it.

Tom Snyder will be on the other side of the debate. Synder, the point person for the AFL-CIO on immigration, wants to limit construction worker visas to be sure Americans get the first crack at new jobs that open up.

“We want to be sure there’s true labor market shortages before you admit new workers in," he says.

Especially, Snyder says, when the unemployment rate for construction workers right now is double the national average. 

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...