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U.S. Chamber Urges Guestworker Program Expansion

Monday, June 18, 2001 - 8:00pm

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The United States Chamber of Commerce today urged lawmakers to expand the nation's foreign temporary worker program to fill critical unskilled and semi-skilled jobs that remain vacant in a tight U.S. labor market.

"Employers are doing their share to advertise and recruit Americans for these essential jobs – increasing wages and benefits, offering training and bonuses, and participating in welfare-to-work," said Randel Johnson, Chamber vice president for labor policy, testifying before the House Immigration Subcommittee on behalf of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition. "But unless our working-age population increases, we must look to immigration to help fill the labor gap."

By 2008, the U.S. economy will produce an estimated 161 million jobs – to be filled by just 154 million American workers – and the labor-shortage problem will only escalate as the Baby Boomers start to retire. Construction, hotels, restaurants and other sectors that rely heavily on unskilled and semi-skilled labor – the so-called "essential workers" – will be particularly hard hit by this demographic trend.

"The current immigration system provides no workable, legal methods for employers to sponsor foreign nationals for essential jobs," said Johnson. "We need to expand temporary visa programs to include longer-term employment and revamp our green-card program to help employers hire valuable foreign workers permanently."

The Chamber is a leader of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, a group of businesses, trade associations and other organizations working with Congress and the Bush administration to address the unskilled and semi-skilled labor shortage.

"The time has never been better to fix this problem," said Johnson. "We are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the immigration discussions inaugurated in February between the United States and Mexico. Presidents Bush and Fox have started the dialogue – Congress must continue it."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world's largest business federation, representing more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector and region.

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