The Employer Perspective: The Role of the Private Sector in the U.S. Immigration Debate
When Congress last considered immigration reform, in 2006 and 2007, few employers were willing to play a public role in the debate. In 2013, in contrast, employers were among the most visible and vocal proponents of change – writing op-ed pieces, holding press conferences, attending public forums, and appearing in the media. Unlike in some countries, U.S. employers don’t need government help attracting or recruiting foreign workers, either high-skilled or low-skilled. What they need are streamlined, easy-to-use worker visa programs ample enough to accommodate the robust market-driven flows that currently deliver foreign labor for U.S. businesses, whether in IT and finance or hospitality, food processing, and construction, among other sectors. As a result of the new business advocacy, public opinion is shifting, as more Americans come to understand the economic benefits of immigration, high-skilled and low-skilled. Legislation passed in the U.S. Senate in June 2013 reflects this new understanding, with some caveats. Among other far-reaching changes, the bill would dramatically increase employment-based migration, adding more visas, temporary and permanent, for high-skilled employees and creating a new, break-the-mold visa program for less-skilled workers. When this paper went to press in early 2014, it was unclear if the House of Representatives would act to approve legislation that could be reconciled with the Senate bill to produce new law. There are limits to business power, particularly in the current climate in Washington — employers alone are not in a position to force legislative change. Still, after what happened in 2013, the debate will never be same: now that employers have found their voice, business interests are unlikely to go silent.
This paper will begin by examining the new role business played in 2013, with a comparison to business advocacy in previous years. Following sections will explore what U.S. employers want from immigration reform: how they recruit foreign workers and what assistance they seek from government. The paper will outline the changes to labor migration proposed by the 2013 Senate immigration bill and conclude with a discussion of possible winners and losers if a bill along these lines were to become law.