US businesses step up to immigration debate as unexpected allies...

Many US businesses have come out in strong opposition to provisions within the Kennedy/Bush immigration deal currently being debated on the Senate floor. Immigrant rights groups have been working with local businesses and agriculture for many years to build broad coalitions for immigrant rights. In March, FIRM brought community partners from 22 states to lobby with immigrant leaders for fair and humane immigration reform. These broad coalitions have often been overlooked or ignored in the larger media, but as the immigration debate heats up- many businesses are stepping forward and opposing provisions of the legislation. Read more about their opposition from an article in the Economic Times ( a newspaper in India):

US businesses oppose parts of immigration proposal

AGENCIES[ THURSDAY, MAY 24, 2007 03:21:14 AM]   LOS ANGELES: Some farmers and business people reliant on migrant labour do not see how they will stay in business if Congress passes an immigration reform bill that would require immigrant workers to go back home for a year.

“I can’t go six months without growing a chicken... We’ll be out of business when they come back,” said Lucius Adkins, who owns one of the biggest chicken farms in Georgia and serves as president of the United Poultry Growers Association. US businesses reliant on immigrants have long pushed for reforms to address their need for labour, but many at both ends of the spectrum complain that the proposal endorsed by Senate leaders and President George W Bush would prove too disruptive and make it too hard for them find the workers they need.

In Adkins’ case, the poultry processing plants that buy his chickens rely on immigrant workers. And if the processing stops for even a short time, his whole operation grinds to a halt. Across the country, industries such as carpet manufacturing, farming, poultry processing, meat-packing, construction, restaurants and hotels depend heavily on low- or unskilled illegal immigrants. Technology companies, meanwhile, increasingly look outside the US to find engineers, programmers and other highly-skilled workers, who are here legally, mostly on temporary work visas.

Among other things, the legislation would grant legal status to the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the US, allowing them to seek permanent legal residency or citizenship. They would be subject to a $5,000 (euro3,700) fee and fines, and the heads of households would have to return to their country of origin temporarily. The reforms also call for a guest worker programme that would issue some 4,00,000 visas a year for largely low-skill immigrants seeking employment for two years.

Sean McHugh, spokesman for the Greeley, Colorado-based meat-packing giant Swift & Co, said he supports many of the reforms, but worries that the measure will cause high turnover. “Our needs are year-round and we do invest substantial amount of time and money in training a new hire, so we obviously prefer to keep them on the payroll rather than lose them,” he said.

Swift was hit with big immigration raids on December 12 at its plants in six states. In all, authorities arrested nearly 1,300 suspected illegal immigrants. Many high-tech companies that routinely face shortages of skilled workers said the reform measure could actually make it tougher to find employees with the specific skills and experience they need in the fast-changing high-tech world. Currently, high-tech companies recruit specific foreigners who possess the precise skills they need. These foreigners are issued what are called H1-B visas.

The reform measure would instead create a point system that rewards people with advanced degrees and special skills. Some high-tech companies complain that this would give them less control over the selection process

They also say that the government needs to make more H1-B visas available to highly educated professionals.

Compete America, which represents a number of major US companies, including Google, Intel and Microsoft, opposes the revamped guidelines for H1-B visas. “This could be a disaster for US competitiveness,” said Vivek Wadhwa, an India-born founder of two tech start-ups in North Carolina’s Research Triangle. “We may get more cheap labour, but we’re going to lose the engineers and scientists that we need to keep our global edge.”

Some businesses are also worried about a provision that would require employers to verify workers’ immigration status using a new computer database. The National Association of Home Builders, which lobbies on behalf of construction companies, called the measure “unwieldy and unworkable”. The bill “would do irreparable harm to America’s small businesses, which have generated the lion’s share of new job growth in the economy,” said Jerry Howard, the organisation’s executive vice-president and chief executive.