WASHINGTON - Business and labor groups announced agreement Thursday on the principles of a new system to bring lower-skilled workers to the U.S, a key priority for a comprehensive immigration bill.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO reached consensus after weeks of closed-doors negotiations they were conducting at the request of Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., two of the senators involved in crafting an immigration deal on Capitol Hill. Ensuring that future workers can come to the U.S. legally is expected to be a central element of the deal, which will also address border security, employer verification and a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
The principles announced Thursday include agreement on the need for a way to let businesses more easily hire foreign workers when Americans aren't available to fill jobs. This will require a new kind of worker visa program that does not keep all workers in a permanent temporary status and responds as the U.S. economy grows and shrinks, the groups said in a joint news release.
They also said they see the need for a new professional bureau housed within a federal executive agency and tasked with informing Congress and the public about labor market needs and shortages. That addresses a key demand from the labor side for a more transparent and data-driven process about business' needs for workers.
Thursday's agreement represents a significant step in talks that some on Capitol Hill gave little chance of success.
President Obama has been criticized as caving in to organized labor for failing to include a temporary worker program in his own immigration blueprint. White House press secretary Jay Carney would not say whether the White House supports a visa program for low-skill workers.
Business and labor have long been at odds over any temporary worker program, with business groups wanting more workers and labor groups concerned about worker protections and that any large-scale program that could displace American workers. The issue helped sink the last congressional attempt at rewriting the nation's immigration laws, in 2007, which was partly why Schumer and Graham asked Chamber President Tom Donohue and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to try to forge an accord that Senate negotiators could include in legislation they hope to complete by next month.