How Will Immigration Reform Impact the Construction Industry

Skilled labor is in high demand in all parts of the country. Despite the increasing demand for labor, immigration reform may hamper the construction industry’s growth as a result of the Senate’s immigration reform bill, which includes the “W-Visa” program. A PBS Newshour report states that the visa will allow foreigners with lesser skills to apply for positions in the country. The visa would last three years and workers could renew it for additional three-year periods.

The program would grant 20,000 W-visas in 2015 and gradually increase that number thereafter. The construction industry, however, would be limited to 15,000 W-visas, which translates to 15,000 immigrants allowed to work in construction in the first year.

There is a clear benefit of the program because the W-Visa program gives immigrants the ability to change jobs – a provision not allowed under the current temporary worker programs.

But construction industry professionals fear the policy will do more harm than good and could put the now-growing construction industry in a position where employers, like myself, are not lacking in work, but rather in workers.

Immigration Reform Bill Construction

According to Geoff Burr, Vice President of Federal Affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors, “a guest worker program is essential to the success of any viable reform to our immigration system.” He feels that the current plan for construction is too small to address the workforce needs of the industry in times of both high and low employment. Burr notes that the W-Visa plan fails to provide a sufficient number of visas to meet market demand.

The U.S. Department of Labor has a different perspective on the issue, in that unemployment rates in the construction industry indicate that there is no current shortage of skilled laborers in construction. Industry professionals would argue that unemployment rates are not a clear indicator of the number of workers in the construction industry because many are currently undocumented workers not classified as “payroll.”

A study conducted by The University of Texas found that more than 40 percent of construction workers in Texas are misclassified. Not only are these undocumented workers not included on payroll, but they also usually fall victim to payroll fraud.

“As the nation’s construction sector recovers, it will inevitably be more difficult to fill critical labor openings and make it impossible to secure the border,” said Burr. In order for immigration reform to be successful, he believes the cap on visas should be determined by the only measure that truly reflects the needs of the economy and our industry, labor market demand.


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