- Republican Rep. Lloyd Smucker of Pennsylvania has introduced two bills that would create a new immigration visa system for non-farm workers and potentially provide more money for construction career training and apprenticeships.
- The “Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act” would allow U.S. employers to staff pre-approved projects in construction and other industries with temporary foreign workers, pending federal government authorization.
- The “USA Workforce Tax Credit Act” would encourage charitable donations for community-based apprenticeships, workforce development and career and technical education programs. A tax credit, capped at $2 billion, would go into effect this year, with half of the credit earmarked for apprenticeships and other job preparedness programs.
The Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act, Smucker’s press release said, would help fill the estimated 6.7 million open jobs in the U.S.
The Associated General Contractors of America has long been pushing for an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system in order to help contractors supplement their workforces with temporary workers from abroad. The workforce bill, the organization said, would establish the first-ever visa program for less-skilled construction labor, and the AGC has urged members of Congress to support it.
“The shortage of available, qualified workers in many parts of the country threatens to undermine continued economic growth,” said AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr. “Creating a temporary, flexible worker visa system will allow all types of economic development to proceed without costly delays caused by workforce shortages.”
In January, the AGC reported that 79% of construction companies planned on expanding their workforces this year but about the same percentage were concerned that they would not be able to find enough workers to meet their needs.
The labor shortage is a recurring theme among the groups that forecast trends in the construction industry. Earlier this month, for instance, Wells Fargo Securities reported that 47% of the companies responding to its latest Construction Industry Forecast survey said that finding qualified workers was their top concern, and 35% believed that this was the biggest risk their businesses faced.
Also this month, USG Corp. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that 70% of the contractors they surveyed for their first-quarter 2019 Commercial Construction Index said that the labor shortage had them worried about their ability to meet project deadlines. More than 80% of contractors were coping with the dearth of skilled workers by requiring that their existing employees to do extra work, and 40% had turned down projects because of the shortage.
The AGC said it believes the new legislation could help curb illegal immigration, allowing workers to come to work when needed and leave when demand subsides. “This measure will help put an end to an immigration system that creates too many incentives for workers to illegally enter the country while also boosting economic growth,” Sandherr said.