As workforce shortages in the roofing industry become more acute because of increasingly tight labor markets and ongoing supply chain disruptions, NRCA continues working to address this issue on multiple fronts. One front is immigration reform where NRCA remains engaged in the ongoing debate in Congress despite a difficult political environment.
The challenges roofing industry employers face in filling job openings with qualified candidates have been steadily increasing for many years. A 2019 study commissioned by the Roofing Alliance and conducted by Arizona State University, Tempe, found 90% of U.S. roofing contractors faced workforce shortages during the previous year. The problem results primarily from an aging workforce and other demographic trends accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To address workforce shortages in the short term, NRCA is working to strengthen the H-2B seasonal guest worker program. Some NRCA members use foreign workers who enter the U.S. on seasonal visas to supplement their workforces during the peak season. Every H-2B worker is estimated to create or sustain 4.64 American jobs, according to the Chamber of Commerce.
Unfortunately, the program’s annual cap of 66,000 visas (33,000 for each half of a fiscal year) is woefully inadequate to meet the demands of a growing economy. As a result, in recent years the program has been inundated with visa requests from employers that are desperate to fill open positions with requests coming in at nearly quadruple the current cap. To rectify this shortfall, NRCA and H-2B Workforce Coalition allies successfully pushed Congress to grant the Biden administration authority to increase the number of visas available to match demand on an annual basis.
In January, the Department of Homeland Security released an additional 20,000 visas during the first half of the government’s fiscal year 2022 (Oct. 1, 2021–March 31, 2022). To help the roofing industry meet workforce needs in the busy spring and summer months, NRCA CEO Reid Ribble sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh to urge approval of more visas for the second half of the fiscal year (April 1-Sept. 30, 2022). NRCA is pleased that on March 31 DHS announced it will issue an additional 35,000 H-2B visas for the second half of fiscal year 2022, which should help NRCA members address peak workforce needs this summer.
NRCA also supports the H-2B Returning Worker Exemption Act of 2021 (H.R. 3897), bipartisan legislation to permanently expand the number of H-2B visas available annually and make other needed reforms to improve employers’ access to the H-2B program. NRCA hopes progress will be made for the 2022 season and beyond but notes some labor unions oppose these efforts, so the outlook remains uncertain.
Although the H-2B program has helped some NRCA members address workforce needs, many contractors have not been able to take advantage of it. Clearly, more effort is needed to meet the industry’s long-term workforce needs.
To that end, NRCA continues building support for the Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act (H.R. 4288), legislation introduced by Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.), that seeks to establish a new visa system specially designed for the current economy. The deployment of visas under this legislation would be governed by market forces to respond to rapid changes in economic sectors, and the number of visas allocated annually would vary based on demand. The bill contains numerous provisions designed to balance employees’ needs while also making it relatively easy for employers to use. Additionally, the legislation would combat illegal immigration by requiring participating employers to enroll in the E-Verify program. With these and other provisions, the bill attempts to ensure the H-2B program is responsive to employers’ and workers’ needs.
NRCA also is reviewing the Dignity Act (H.R. 6637), immigration reform legislation recently introduced by Rep. Maria Salazar (R-Fla.). This bill takes a more comprehensive approach to reforming the immigration system rather than addressing parts of the system. It contains a robust border security package, reforms the asylum system and would combat illegal immigration by mandating use of the E-Verify system for all employers. The bill also attempts to address the highly contentious issue of undocumented workers in the U.S. by proposing a new program to enable qualifying undocumented immigrants to transition to legal status and potentially a path to U.S. citizenship. Finally, the bill would allow individuals with Temporary Protected Status and “Dreamers” eligible for the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program to adjust to lawful permanent resident status, which has been a key objective of NRCA for several years.
NRCA commends Salazar for her innovative proposal and believes many of the reforms contained in the bill would be ideal to couple with the new visa system in the Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act. Together, the reforms would help fix the broken immigration system in a comprehensive manner while providing for the roofing industry’s future workforce needs.
More work to come
Democrats and Republicans currently are at an impasse regarding immigration policy and have been unable to work in a bipartisan manner on this issue. However, pressure will continue to grow on lawmakers to act as workforce shortages and supply chain disruptions persist. Although Congress likely will not take up immigration reform before the 2022 midterm elections, the topic could be a major focus of the new Congress in early 2023.
NRCA will continue working with lawmakers to address immigration policy on a bipartisan basis to help provide short- and long-term solutions for the roofing industry’s workforce needs.
DUANE L. MUSSER is NRCA's vice president of government relations in Washington, D.C.