What do computer programmers and meatpacking workers have in common? If they are nationals of a foreign country, some company in the United States wants them to come here to work.
Two big issues lie at the heart of the debate over immigration reform. The first is the fate of about 11 million undocumented residents of the U.S. The path to citizenship for these individuals is the big question. Applicants will have to prove they will be good citizens. They cannot have been arrested for a serious crime. They will have to pay back taxes and fees, and will have to speak English. The path will be long and difficult.
The second big issue is employing foreign workers. H-1B visas are for workers hired for their technical skills.
Demand for H-1B visas by American companies is very high. Companies can sponsor a total of 65,000 foreigners who have at least a bachelor’s degree. An additional 20,000 visas go to foreign nationals with advanced degrees from U.S. universities.
The quota for applicants will soon be reached for jobs starting in October 2013. The process of bringing someone in is complex and expensive. Still, the private sector wants more H-1B visas. Many employers believe the labor market and not congress should set the number.
The guest worker program is also a big issue. The guest worker visa program is for workers to fill shortages of labor in America’s fields and factories. It is for low-skilled, year-round temporary workers. The sticking point has always been about their wages. Advocates worry that the workers will be paid lower wages than Americans. Business and labor groups have come to an agreement. Guest workers will not be paid less than the usual wage for the industry they are in. They will be paid their actual wage if it is higher.
With agreement on visas and the path to citizenship worked out, it is likely that bills will soon be introduced in congress. However, introduction does not mean the bills will not change as they are debated.