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Business leaders plea with Biden for work visas to help with unfilled jobs

A coalition of business leaders is stepping up pressure on the Biden administration to use all means at its disposal to issue more work visas as labor shortages threaten to cripple a variety of industries.

In a letter to President Biden, 126 business leaders and employers called for him to “expand a special category of immigration permits for individuals who can fill positions where labor shortages exist.”

“Under the Department of Homeland Security, there is existing authority to expand work authorizations during [trying] times or situations, they call it significant public benefits,” said Rebecca Shi, executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC).

“What employers are arguing is that due to the acute labor shortage, we continue to have 10.5 million unfilled jobs, and that’s driving up inflation for everyday Americans.”

The business leaders, writing under the banner of the ABIC, also touted a proposal that would grant states some say in visa allocation.

“One plan advanced by Republican governors, Eric Holcomb of Indiana and Spencer Cox of Utah, would allow states to ‘sponsor’ immigrant workers. With that authority, states could decide how many visas are needed each year for specific jobs,” reads the letter.

In a Washington Post op-ed in February, Holcomb and Cox came out in favor of the plan, which would require congressional action.

“To help us do our jobs as governors, we call on Congress to end its two-decade standoff on setting immigration policy — one of its most basic duties. And, as leaders of states, we pledge to share the accountability,” they wrote.

The proposal, first introduced in 2019 by Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), has yet to make a dent in the broader conversation on immigration policy and reform, but it risks angering the right flank of the GOP.

Some industries, however, need immigration reform to operate without violating the law — and employers in those sectors are applauding Republicans who take that risk.

“The political reality is, there’s this base of voters on the right-hand side of the slate that seems to weigh a lot of influence on the primary winners. And that plays heavily upon a lot of our Republican elected officials, and let’s face it: We are in the Midwest, and Republican candidates dominate our elected positions,” said Steve Obert, executive director of Indiana Dairy Producers.

“That’s why I just really applaud Governor Holcomb as a Republican for his willingness to step out on this issue and have the courage and be a leader to say, ‘Hey, you know, maybe states can do this better than our federal government.'”  

The ABIC letter included representatives from the construction, manufacturing, agriculture, landscaping, and restaurant industries, all of which rely heavily on immigrant labor.

“There’s no better feeling than keeping manufacturing in the U.S.,” Lisa Winton, CEO of Winton Machine Company in Suwanee, Ga., said in a statement. 

“But we simply don’t have enough labor to do that right now. Meanwhile, Georgia and many other states are home to countless immigrant workers, both newcomers and long term contributors, who want nothing more than to work hard, legally so, in their new homeland. Why wouldn’t we unlock this tremendous resource?”

Because of labor shortages, many employers are growing increasingly impatient with the immigration system’s inflexibility.

“The thing that frustrates me too, is I hear a lot, ‘Well, we’ve got to fix the border,'” Obert said.

“Well, it seems to me that creating a legal framework that creates these guardrails to bring people over here and in a proper manner could contribute to improving the situation on the border. So I always kind of reject that argument.”

Livestock industries, such as dairy, are especially active in calls for immigration reform, because none of the work visas available to foreign laborers are suitable to their needs.

Livestock requires year-round labor that takes time and money to train, but agricultural visas are seasonal, and there are not enough U.S. citizen laborers seeking the lifestyle that comes with those jobs.

“To go out and work with cows — they’re large. They’re not aggressive, but it takes some knowledge and appreciation for how cattle react and respond. It’s a decent job, the working conditions are not bad,” Obert said. 

“But you know, you’ve got to have the sights and the smells and the sounds and all those things that people aren’t used to. Therefore, they’re just not drawn to that kind of work. And you know, a lot of young people are going to college, and they just have different career aspirations.”

Obert added that training foreign workers comes with additional challenges, such as making certain applicants can read and write and follow safety instructions to operate machinery, but young immigrants come willing to learn.

“There’s that openness, and then that appreciation to have a job and that sense of fulfillment and satisfaction to know that they’re working for people or a family that really appreciates what they’re doing,” he said.

Because of the gap in visa categories, the dairy industry has become increasingly reliant on undocumented labor — a reality that transcends any legal considerations.

“Cows have to be milked. They have to be milked every day, they have to be fed, they have to be cared for. And that work is going to get done,” Obert said.

“But if we can create a legal framework for that to happen, it’d be hugely beneficial to the family dairy farm, the dairy farm families of Indiana and really across the whole nation.”

Source: The Hill

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