Over the past year, the Chamber of Commerce has been pretty silent in the immigration debate. Most notably, the powerful business group was absent from the coalition of Latino, labor, faith, and advocacy groups that fought an uphill battle this year under the umbrella of the Reform Immigration for America campaign to get comprehensive immigration reform on the table in 2010. However, this week the Chamber spoke out on two issues: the $600 million border bill and high-skilled immigrant labor.
Yesterday, officials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Council on International Personnel blasted the recently approved $600 million border bill that would be paid for by an increase the work-visa fees foreign companies must pay if they have more than 50 employees in their U.S. operations and hire more than half their workforce using H-1B or L-1 visas. The Chamber’s senior vice president for labor, Randel Johnson, called the provision “an easy political shot.” Ron Somers, president of the U.S.-India Business Council, was similarly inflamed. “We urge the Congress and the Obama administration to amend this new funding method for border security and any policies that would harm America’s economic interest and undermine the burgeoning economic, trade and strategic relationship with India,” stated Somers.
Looking to the future, the Chamber also released a report yesterday calling on Congress to reform the H1-B high-skilled labor visa system to “let business and economic needs determine the composition of an employer’s workforce, not an arbitrary quota, lottery or commission.” The Chamber argues, “the best policy would ease the way for employers to sponsor high skilled individuals for green cards by exempting from labor certification and current employment- based immigrant quotas many who now languish in 6 to 20 year queues.” The Chambers calls for “let[ting] market decide on the number of new skilled foreign nationals who work in America each year” and sharply criticizes the position of labor groups which believe an independent commission of experts, modeled after the International Trade Commission, should regularly recommend and update visa quotas in response to the nation’s economic and labor needs.
Ultimately, labor groups understandably oppose “letting the market decide” because experience has shown that often boils down to what making businesses more profitable — which isn’t necessarily synonymous with what’s good for American workers. They claim “broader decisions about immigration policy should not be delegated to employers, who cannot be relied upon to protect the best interests of workers or the nation” and that a labor commission would take a more holistic approach, examining “the impact of immigration on the economy, wages, the workforce and business.” The idea of an independent commission has been endorsed by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Migration Policy Institute, which argues that “managing immigration in the national interest requires a[n]…institutional capacity to monitor and analyze information as the basis for making changes.”