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Business-Labor Talks on Guest Workers Falter

Labor, on the other hand, wants the program to rely on detailed unemployment data, which will let the government determine how many workers to bring into the country.

“There’s no question it’s going to be a government system,” a labor source said. “We don’t want random employers to be able to game the system.”

The joint statement in February called for a new bureau to compile data on labor shortages as a way to determine where new workers might be needed. The two sides still disagree, however, on how much authority the bureau should have. Should it be involved in setting visa numbers or should it play a more advisory role?

The two sides are also discussing how wage rates for guest workers should be set. They have also talked about the categories of workers that will be covered under the new program but appear to have agreed to limit it to workers in jobs that do not require more than a high school diploma, the labor source said.

Despite their differences, the two sides have agreed on a few significant points. First, employers seeking foreign workers would have to apply for government certification, requiring them to prove they’ve exhausted all efforts to hire Americans. Workers, once hired, will be able to quit their jobs without fear of deportation and apply for new jobs from certified employers. Right now, in many visa categories, workers are dependent on employers for their visas, making them less likely to complain about employer abuse.

Business and labor also agree that guest workers should have a way to eventually earn legal permanent residence and, ultimately, citizenship, if they stay out of legal trouble and become enmeshed in American society.

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