By Daniel Indiviglio
WASHINGTON, April 2 (Reuters Breakingviews) - As appealing as it may be to see America's Big Labor and Big Business lobbies come together, the immigration deal they struck looks a little too clever. The compromise, designed to give Congress a way to allow lesser-skilled foreign workers into the country, is predicated on rules and conditions that may be too expensive and cumbersome to implement.
The headlines look good, of course, as two important groups often at loggerheads spearheaded the plan: the Chamber of Commerce, a mouthpiece for big business; and the AFL-CIO, a huge trade union. One group wants more flexibility to hire lower-skilled foreign workers, while the other wants to protect its members' wages and jobs.
Their solution is to allow companies to hire foreigners on so-called 'W Visas' if there aren't any Americans to fill job openings, while providing safeguards to ensure wages don't fall.
Economic statistics like the unemployment rate and job vacancies would dictate how many W Visas are available. Companies must prove that they exhaustively tried hiring Americans, aren't in the midst of a strike and haven't laid workers off recently. They would also need to ensure that those new workers' wages resemble those of other employees or the industry.
This all makes sense, but creates a pretty high bar for companies wanting to hire W Visa workers. Compliance might be an endurable burden for big corporations, but small businesses - where most U.S. job growth originates - may find the rules too costly, or worry about lawsuits if they miss checking a box.
To track the economic statistics that the W Visa relies on would require the creation of an entirely new Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research. Adding another agency to a federal government obsessed with deficit-cutting isn't desirable. Without such specialist statisticians, the foundation beneath the W Visa would be unworkable.
Finally, the program may be too small to have much economic impact. By mid-2019, it would have only provided up to 185,000 visas. That slow trickle, in conjunction with the compliance obstacles and taxpayer cost, could make the W Visa an idea that sounds brilliant to policymakers today, but makes little economic difference in years to come.
- In an effort to reform the U.S. immigration system, congressional leaders turned to two key business groups to compromise on a program for lower-skilled workers. Those groups are the Chamber of Commerce, a lobbying organization that acts on behalf of businesses, and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a large trade union.
- Businesses want more flexibility to hire lower-skilled foreign workers when they cannot find enough domestic workers to fill job openings, while unions worry that this could lead to lower wages and lost American jobs. The solution that the Chamber and AFL-CIO have agreed on would create a new 'W Visa' program.
- The new program would allow for companies to hire lower-skilled foreign workers and put them on the path to citizenship if certain criteria are present. The program would begin as of April 1, 2015 with 20,000 visas available. That number would gradually grow to 75,000 in its fourth year.
- After that time, the number of visas available would rise or fall depending on economic statistics like the unemployment rate and job openings, but would not exceed 200,000 annually. These statistics would be monitored by a new government agency, the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research.
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(Editing by Rob Cox and Martin Langfield) Keywords: BREAKINGVIEWS USA/IMMIGRATION
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