The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO have issued a joint statement of shared principles on a visa program for lesser-skilled foreign workers.  As part of current immigration reform efforts, business and labor groups have been working together to find a mutually acceptable way of allowing employers ready access to foreign workers for jobs where insufficient numbers of U.S. workers are available while protecting the wages and conditions of all workers. The February 21 statement is a welcome development and follows previous reports that the two sides were far apart and talks may be breaking down. The failure to reach agreement for any such guest worker program is a key reason that comprehensive immigration reform legislation introduced in 2007 did not pass.

Following are the joint principles announced:

  1. American workers should have the first opportunity at available jobs;
  2. It must be recognized that even in tough economic times, there are instances where employers are unable to fill jobs with U.S. workers and that businesses must be able to hire foreign workers without going through a cumbersome and inefficient process; and
  3. There should be a data-driven and transparent process to inform and address future labor shortages, and the executive branch should establish an independent bureau to inform Congress and the public on the issue.

Both groups acknowledge that much remains to be done. Nonetheless, their pledge to continue working together to find an acceptable solution for a guest worker program is important in maintaining momentum for comprehensive immigration reform legislation as the bi-partisan Senate group working on legislation continues with its efforts (see Immigration Reform Effort Reignites in Congress: Bi-partisan Senate Group Proposes Fix to U.S. System).