In July, Reps. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) and Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) introduced "Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act" (H.R. 6536) in the House of Representatives. The legislation seeks to establish a pilot visa program to provide temporary immigrant workers for U.S. industries that have openings in occupations that do not require a college degree in accordance with economic demand. NRCA strongly supports the legislation as a key component of ongoing efforts to address the roofing industry's chronic workforce shortage.
NRCA recognizes the need for innovative initiatives to address roofing industry employers' workforce development challenges. Employers have experienced difficulty finding qualified candidates for job openings for many years despite offering competitive wages and engaging in strenuous efforts to recruit new employees. The problem results from an aging workforce and other long-term demographic trends in society. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment in roofing will grow 11 percent between 2016 and 2026, and there is widespread agreement within the roofing industry that the high level of workforce demand cannot be met by native-born workers alone. With unemployment now at its lowest level in 17 years according to BLS, the difficulties for employers are growing daily.
For many years, NRCA has been a leading advocate for immigration reform that responds to the workforce needs of businesses. In 1999, NRCA helped found the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (EWIC), a coalition of business organizations formed to work with Congress to develop immigration policies that meet the needs of businesses. Along with other EWIC members, NRCA supports immigration reform that strengthens border security, improves workplace enforcement to combat illegal immigration, provides an avenue for workers to enter the U.S. legally in response to economic conditions and addresses the problem of the existing unauthorized workforce in a balanced manner. These reform components are critical to eliminating illegal immigration while meeting U.S. security and economic needs.
NRCA has long supported the establishment of a visa program that enables employers to legally obtain workers needed to grow their businesses and contribute to economic growth. NRCA members consistently report they could take on 10 to 20 percent more work if they could find the necessary workers, which translates to $3.6 billion to $7.2 billion in lost economic activity annually. For the U.S. economy to achieve maximum growth, workforce shortages in roofing and other industries must be addressed.
H.R. 6536 is designed to help alleviate the problem. The pilot visa system established by the bill would be governed by market forces, and the number of visas allocated each year would fluctuate in accordance with economic demand. Employers would be required to seek U.S. workers before they could use the program. The legislation limits participation to counties or metro areas with unemployment rates below 5 percent. Workers who participate in the pilot program would be able to work for any qualifying employer that tested the labor market and proved themselves unable to hire American workers for open positions. Additionally, the bill would combat illegal immigration by requiring employers that participate in the pilot program to use the E-Verify electronic verification program to check the authorized status of all new hires.
NRCA looks forward to working with lawmakers in Congress to advance and perfect the bill through the legislative process. Unfortunately, the short-term prospects for serious consideration of the Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act do not look promising. Members of Congress and President Trump currently are at an impasse regarding immigration policy, and Congress has failed to pass any immigration reform bills despite strenuous efforts among lawmakers to do so earlier this year. Congress is not expected to address immigration-related bills before the 2018 midterm congressional elections in November.
The outlook for enactment of H.R. 6536 remains uncertain beyond 2018. Immigration legislation efforts will be affected by the outcome of the midterm elections and the resulting composition of the new 116th Congress, which convenes in January 2019. It remains to be seen whether the extreme politicization of immigration policy can be reversed. Rational debate and bipartisan cooperation are needed among lawmakers and President Trump so serious legislating may prevail over election-year politics.
As workforce shortages continue to grow, pressure mounts for Congress to address proposals designed to reform the immigration system. In addition, the resolutions of several immigration-related court cases currently taking place could prompt congressional action.
NRCA commends Reps. Smucker and Rooney for their strong leadership to present an innovative proposal to address the workforce shortage. NRCA now is working to build bipartisan support for H.R. 6536 and lay the foundation for the bill's advancement when Congress again takes up the issue of immigration reform.
NRCA urges members to contact their representatives and senators in support of the legislation by visiting the NRCA Grassroots Advocacy Network at roofingadvocacy.nrca.net and clicking on "NRCA Action Alert: Urge your members of Congress to support the Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act."
Together, NRCA and its members will ensure lawmakers understand the importance of legislation addressing the roofing industry's current and future workforce needs.
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