Business and labor close in on deal on low-skilled worker program for immigration bill

Business and labor close in on deal on low-skilled worker program for immigration bill

CREATED Mar 30, 2013

Web Producer: Laura Kittell

WASHINGTON (AP) - Prospects for a Senate deal on an ambitious rewrite of the nation's immigration laws improved markedly as business and labor appeared ready to set aside their differences over a new low-skilled worker program holding up the agreement.

The AFL-CIO and U.S. Chamber of Commerce had been fighting over wages for tens of thousands of low-skilled workers who would be brought in under the new program to fill jobs in construction, hotels and resorts, nursing homes and restaurants, and other industries. But on Friday, officials from both sides said there was basic agreement on the wage issue, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said a final deal on the low-wage worker dispute was very close.

That likely would clear the way for Schumer and seven other senators in a bipartisan group to unveil legislation the week of April 8 to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, strengthening the border, cracking down on employers, allowing in tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers and providing a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

"We're feeling very optimistic on immigration: Aspiring Americans will receive the road map to citizenship they deserve and we can modernize 'future flow' without reducing wages for any local workers, regardless of what papers they carry," AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser said in a statement. "Future flow" refers to future arrivals of legal immigrants.

Under the emerging agreement between business and labor, a new "W'' visa program would bring tens of thousands of lower-skilled workers a year to the country. The program would be capped at 200,000 a year, but the number of visas would fluctuate, depending on unemployment rates, job openings, employer demand and data collected by a new federal bureau pushed by the labor movement as an objective monitor of the market.

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