The headlines regarding immigration reform are vast and varied. From pieces on House Speaker Boehner to President Obama, the news runs the gamut. Is immigration reform dead for 2013? Will House Republicans pass legislation if they can take a piecemeal approach? Is there any chance that a “commonsense” comprehensive immigration reform bill will see the light of day?
Regardless of the headlines, there are industries that are in desperate need of immigration reform, construction and commercial roofing among them. Without some type of reform, these industries will most likely find themselves in dire straits when it comes to filling positions. That is why KPOST Company senior executives Jayne Williams and Steve Little recently weighed in on this important issue.
Jayne Williams – KPOST Company CFO and Chief Safety Officer
To date, there is not a single bill written that really focuses on people currently in the country illegally. Presently, there is not a clear way for them to become citizens and existing bills presented do not provide one. It is imperative that we take into consideration the large population of people here that need the opportunity to become permanent residents. Perhaps they came over on a visa and chose to stay. Perhaps they came to visit family, or went out in search of a better way of life. Whatever the case may be, our country was founded on the principle that we welcome those seeking opportunity. Our current immigration policy does not support this founding concept.
The construction industry needs a voice. When it comes to worker visas, construction is not even considered as an industry. Typically you will find that technology is considered, perhaps even engineering, but construction is not on anyone’s radar. The construction industry is a significant employer for immigrants, and therefore must be considered when immigration reform becomes a topic of conversation.
For example, in addition to the large numbers of immigrants from Mexico, there are also immigrants from other countries who seek employment in the construction industry, including Cuba, Portugal, and Russia. The construction industry is in desperate need of a temporary worker visa in order to accommodate these people. There are people here interested in performing quality labor that go beyond the temporary agricultural visa.
There are several industries that must be considered and represented when the topic of immigration reform is being reviewed, including construction, landscaping, and commercial roofing. There are industries that employ immigrants beyond the technology and engineering sectors. Even with current programs that allow for work visas, the process is too lengthy. We are all moving quickly to provide quality services to our customers, so taking months to get someone into a position is simply too long.
The truth is we all need to have a workforce. We believe in protecting our workforce and ensuring they have safe, secure environments in which they can thrive. We would love to hire all American employees, but the reality is they do not want the work. We need to fill the positions with those passionate about providing quality work, who desire the work, and are willing to do what it takes to get the job done.
Steve Little, KPOST Company President
Jayne is our representative regarding immigration and is particularly well versed in the topic. She is very familiar with the government and regulatory aspects and has served as a chair of the National Roofing and Construction Association’s Political Action Committee. We are fortunate to have her insights on how the issue of immigration integrates through Congress, and how frustrating it is for employers in the marketplace that policies are being manipulated for constituents, not for the employers.
What if all the recent immigrants stopped working for one week? Historically unions would go on strike, refusing to perform their jobs until a positive change was made to their work environment. What if immigrants did the same? There are many industries that would be severely impacted, so why not make it a point to ensure these people who are here doing a good job are cared for by giving them the opportunity to become legalized citizens?
The construction labor pool is dwindling. Our economists are telling us that over the next 10 years we are going to have a 20% shortage of labor in the construction industry. This is due to the lack of available employees in the market coupled with the increase in business. Bottom line – there is going to be a shortage of human capital.
The birth rate in the United States is dropping. There are 40 million people in Generation Y, which is almost half of the number of Baby Boomers. The next generation will be even less at an estimated 20 million. On top of that we are playing games with immigration, making it difficult for someone to obtain legal status. So, basically we are watching our talent pool shrink and refusing to do anything about increasing it even though it is well within our control.
It’s exasperating to watch our legislators continue to play these games instead of helping us improve the economy.
What does it take to become a U.S. Citizen?
It seems like a fairly straightforward process. You come into this country, apply for a green card, wait the allotted amount of time and then apply to be naturalized, right? Unfortunately no.
The system is complicated to navigate and the very first step is almost impossible for the common person to achieve – getting a simple work visa and/or green card to be here legally. Following is the information from the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services website on the basic criteria required to obtain a green card:
“Individuals who want to become immigrants (permanent residents) through their qualified family member, a job offer or employment, or a special category will generally be classified in categories based on a preference system. Except for immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen who are given the highest immigration priority and a few other exceptions, Congress has set a finite number of visas that can be used each year for each category of immigrants.”
The important items to note are the preference system and the finite number of visas. This system does not take into account a large number of immigrants who are presently here illegally simply because they are not of a special category. It is much more difficult for the common man or woman to obtain legal status than most people realize. For that reason alone, immigration reform is very necessary. For the construction and commercial roofing industry, immigration reform is mandatory to preserve the future of these industries.