World and Nation

Business, labor leaders urge visa system for low-skilled

WASHINGTON — In an effort to avert the bitter and public feuding between business and labor organizations that helped kill a broad immigration overhaul in 2007, representatives of the two groups released a statement on Thursday outlining shared goals designed to show that, at least for now, they could reach a basic level of compromise.

In the statement, signed by Thomas J. Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Richard L. Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, the groups called for a visa system that would allow businesses to meet their demand for lower-skilled workers, while offering some protections for U.S. workers.

“The United States will always be a nation of immigrants who have contributed greatly to the vitality, diversity and creativity of American life,” the statement said. “Yet, like the rest of America’s immigration system, the mechanisms for evaluating our labor market needs and admitting foreign workers — as well as recruiting U.S. workers — for temporary and permanent jobs are broken or nonexistent.”

The statement presented three general goals for addressing the issue of immigration by lower-skilled workers: the assurance that U.S. workers should have “a first crack at available jobs”; a new visa program for lower-skilled workers that will adjust to reflect the changing needs to businesses as the economy shrinks and expands; and greater transparency, rooted in demographic and labor market data, in determining the market need for temporary workers.

Traditionally, labor unions have rejected the idea of a guest worker program for lower-skilled workers, which they fear could take jobs away from U.S. workers and depress wages. Business leaders have lobbied for a guest worker program, arguing that they need low-skilled labor for jobs — in agriculture, for instance — that U.S. workers cannot or will not do.