- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Pro-business advocates urged Congress yesterday to create a program for foreign “guest workers” but called some of the provisions in the Senate immigration bill “troubling.”

The Senate legislation, said Elizabeth C. Dickson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to a House committee yesterday, “includes a number of requirements that are unclear, unnecessary or simply unwise, and we hope that should Congress move to enact a new temporary-worker program that these problems will be addressed.”

In particular, she said, there are concerns in the business community about provisions that would require foreign construction laborers here under a guest-worker program to be paid well above the minimum wage, even as American workers at the same site could earn less.

The bill that passed the Senate in the spring would dramatically expand the Davis Bacon Act of 1931, which requires that a local prevailing wage be paid to all workers employed in federally contracted construction or projects done for the District. Those wages — up to four or five times higher in some fields than the federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour — are set by the Department of Labor.

The Senate’s immigration bill would require that the higher wages be paid to foreign temporary workers in all construction occupations, even if the project isn’t federally funded and doesn’t otherwise fall under 1931 legislation.

Despite flaws in the Senate bill, Ms. Dickson said a guest-worker program is needed. However, Jack Martin of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) warned that such a program would have negative effects on American workers.

The increases proposed in just two categories of work visas, he said, would result in an immigrant work force that in six years could grow to 2.8 million — more than double the 2004 level.

“FAIR views the various current visa programs that allow aliens to work temporarily in the United States as excessive, poorly conceived, subject to abuse and in many ways unfair to the American worker,” Mr. Martin told the House Education and the Workforce Committee yesterday. “It should also be clear that FAIR finds the expansion of foreign temporary-worker programs provided for in [the Senate bill] unwarranted and injurious to the American work force.”

Committee Chairman Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican, said the hearing provided evidence that the Senate bill requires further scrutiny by House.

“Though there was disagreement among our witnesses about the value of guest-worker programs, there was a commonly held view that these programs need reform and a closer examination of a potential expansion of them is warranted,” he said.

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