America’s top business and labor groups have reached an agreement on a guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants.
The New York Times reports that the deal clears the path for broad immigration legislation to be introduced when Congress returns from its two-week recess in mid-April.
The paper says New York Senator Charles E. Schumer convened a conference call on Friday night with Thomas J. Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s main federation of labor unions.
The report says they agreed in principle on a guest worker program for low-skilled, year-round temporary workers.
Democrat Schumer is one of eight senators from both parties who have been negotiating an overhaul of American immigration laws.
Pay for guest workers was the last major sticking point on a broad immigration package.
The report says the eight senators still need to sign off on the agreement between the business and labor groups.
Senator Schumer said: “This issue has always been the deal breaker on immigration reform, but not this time.”
The agreement reached between the influential business and labor groups all but assures that the bipartisan group of senators will introduce their broad immigration legislation in the next few weeks.
The Times adds that their bill, which they have been meeting about several times a week since the November election, will provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country and will also take steps to secure the America’s borders.
A similar bipartisan group in the House has been meeting on and off for nearly four years, and hopes to unveil its own immigration legislation shortly.
The report says the agreement resolves what the pay level should be for low-skilled immigrants, often employed at hotels and restaurants or on construction projects, who could be brought in during labor shortages.
The labor groups want to ensure that guest workers will not be paid less than the median wage in their respective industries.
The two sides are reported to have compromised by agreeing that guest workers would be paid the higher of the prevailing industry wage as determined by the Labor Department or the actual employer wage.
Guest workers will be allowed under the deal to pursue a path to citizenship and to change jobs after they arrive in the United States.
The program is expected to start at 20,000 visas, rising to 35,000 visas in the second year, 55,000 in the third and 75,000 in the fourth.
In the fifth year, the program will expand or shrink based on the unemployment rate, the ratio of job openings to unemployed workers and various other factors.
The new agreement calls for a maximum of 200,000 guest visas granted each year with one third of all visas available in any given year to go to businesses with fewer than 25 employees. No more than 15,000 visas per year will go to construction occupations.
The report says President Obama is eager for an overhaul of the immigration system and has threatened to step in with his own plan if Congress does not move quickly with legislation of its own.
White House spokesman Clark Stevens said: “The president continues to be encouraged by progress being made by the bipartisan group of senators.
“We look forward to seeing language once it is introduced, and expect legislation to move forward as soon as possible.”