Employers Lack Tools to Legally Hire Needed Skilled and Unskilled Labor
Authored by Woody Hunt and Juan Carlos Cerda and originally published on dallasnews.com
Texas is not alone in facing the latest immigration challenge, but we are certainly on the front lines. While continuing challenges place a lot of pressure on our law enforcement and border security agencies, they also present our political leaders with a unique opportunity to lead us with innovative solutions to keep our state competitive.
Here in Texas, we reap the rewards of immigration every day. Texas itself is home to roughly 5 million immigrants, who contribute nearly $40 billion in taxes annually and represent more than $100 billion in spending power every year. Most critically, immigrants fill jobs we need to grow our economy. We have near-record low unemployment in Texas, yet more than 800,000 job vacancies, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It’s hard to take advantage of billions in federal subsidies for manufacturing jobs when the workers aren’t there to build the factories. When immigrants fill high-demand, blue-collar jobs in fields like construction and home health care, research shows that rather than fueling competition, this allows native-born workers to specialize in higher-paying fields, creating billions of dollars in economic gains.
We also need foreign-born workers with advanced degrees to propel the Texas and national economies. It’s hard to stay competitive when you can’t find enough employees with the required training and experience. In the engineering space, for example, one recruiting company reports that 82% of employers are currently struggling to fill positions.
There are people who want those jobs. The U.S. received nearly 800,000 entries in the H-1B visa lottery for college-educated workers this year. But they’re competing for just 85,000 slots — a number that has barely budged since 1990.
Our birth rate has also changed. Our workforce is shrinking; by the next decade, we’ll have more senior citizens than children. Unless we fix our immigration system, these labor shortages are only going to get worse.
Other countries with similar demographics are acting sensibly to meet the needs of their labor market and recruit the workers they need, as The Wall Street Journal recently reported.
That is why within our border challenge lies the solution to our skilled worker shortage, but only if Congress addresses the issue and only if our state leaders take advantage of the opportunity.
One way to ease the border challenge is the bipartisan Dignity Act recently introduced by U.S. Reps. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., and Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso. Under their plan, immigrants would pay a total of $10,000 for their path to legal status.
Another proposal for meeting border and workforce challenges is the HIRE Act by U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio. This legislation would improve the efficiency of our temporary work visa programs by cutting back on bureaucratic red tape.
In the absence of congressional action, we should use every tool at our disposal to restore our great American manufacturing sector. Across the spectrum, American manufacturers are aggressively looking for skilled and trainable workers with little to no success. It is not that the workers do not exist. It is that many of them simply need legal permission to work.
Therefore, we must give each state the ability to identify their specific needs and then sponsor immigrants who can fulfill the roles our current residents cannot. In fact, there is now a proposal by the Republican governors of Utah and Indiana that would give states the flexibility to issue work permits to immigrants who can fill the jobs employers need.
We urge President Joe Biden and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to use its authority under the “Significant Public Benefit” provisions that should allow state governments to sponsor noncitizens to be lawfully “present” in the U.S. and apply for permits for work in critical industries.
The administration can use its authority under existing law to urgently address an ongoing economic crisis and provide a “significant” benefit for our nation.
Every state in the nation is enduring a shortage of workers, and there’s no indication this shortage can possibly end without the help of immigrants. With unemployment hovering near 3.5%, just about every American who wants a job is able to find one. However, as our population ages, more and more of us will need long-term health care, housing and a multitude of other services. Technology continues racing forward, and we want to become less dependent upon foreign manufacturers, the foreign semiconductor industry and foreign sources of energy.
These sensible solutions are key to addressing America’s labor shortages and keeping inflation low, according to a study published by the American Business Immigration Coalition and Texas A&M International University.
Texas must rise above partisanship and fearmongering rhetoric, and our congressional delegation must find common ground so that we can meet our shared challenges and move toward a better future for every Texan.
Woody Hunt is senior chairman of Hunt Companies in El Paso. Juan Carlos Cerda is the Texas state director for the American Business Immigration Coalition, based in Fort Worth. They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.