Senate Judiciary Begins Voting on New Guest Worker Program

Senate Judiciary Begins Voting on New Guest Worker Program

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee resumes its work on the “Gang of 8” amnesty legislation. Tuesday’s meeting, and an additional meeting Thursday, will consider changes to the new guest worker visa program in the bill, as well as rules governing visas for high-skilled workers. Supporters of the legislation have a working 12-6 majority on the committee and should be able to block any amendments that would toughen the bill or make it more restrictive. 

The current Senate proposal would create a new guest worker visa, allowing individuals with low-skills to come to the US to work. The program is a big priority for business groups, arguing that these new workers fill important gaps in the labor force. The US Chamber of Commerce crafted a compromise with AFL-CIO, winning support from unions for a program they have traditionally resisted. 

The Senate proposal caps the number of guest workers admitted each year to 200,000. An amendment by GOP Sen. Mike Lee seeks to increase that cap to 400,000. The lift will likely be defeated, as Gang negotiators strive to preserve the balance between special interest groups supporting the bill. 

Some Democrats are expected to offer amendments to the program that would benefit labor. In the current proposal, if unemployment reaches 8.5% in a region of the country, employers would be prohibited from hiring workers there. Some Democrat amendments seek to lower that threshold. 

There are also expected to be changes proposed affecting the wages of the new guest workers. The current Senate proposal takes the unprecedented step of applying federal “prevailing wage” rules to the guest workers. Prevailing wage rules generally result in workers being paid a similar amount to union members in an area. The proposed rules would be the first time the law was applied to the overall private sector. 

The mark-up process of debating amendments usually results in significant and meaningful changes to legislation, as the input of other members is weighed. That hasn’t happened with the immigration bill to this point. The four Gang negotiators on the committee have remained unified against major changes and have been able to join other Democrat supporters on the committee to reject scores of amendments.

It looks increasingly likely that the Gang proposal will emerge from the committee almost unchanged from how it entered.

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