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Walberg Statement: Hearing on "Examining the Role of Lower-SKilled Guest Worker Programs in Today's Economy"
As prepared for delivery

Legal immigration is a hallmark of this great country. Families and individuals from around the world have come to our shores in pursuit of freedom and opportunity. President Reagan often referred to our nation as “a shining city upon a hill.” For those who have followed its light, we have tried to provide a legal framework for entering and residing inside the United States. Such a framework is critical to protecting our national interests and security.

However, our immigration system is no longer as strong and effective as it should be, and reform is complex and controversial. The Education and the Workforce Committee has long played an important role in that debate, overseeing policies such as employment verification and temporary guest worker programs. 

The current debate is even more complicated due to the ongoing jobs crisis plaguing the nation. Twelve million Americans are searching for work. In my home state of Michigan, nearly 9 percent of the state’s working population is without a job. It is an improvement from where we were a few short years ago, but we still have a long way to go before families and small businesses fully recover from the recession.

To help our economy move forward, we must first ensure all American workers have the tools they need to compete for good paying jobs here at home. I am pleased the House will consider this afternoon comprehensive job training reform legislation, which will help workers and job seekers access to the skills and education they need to get back to work.

Additionally, we must do all that is reasonably possible to ensure employers are searching far and wide for American workers. Guest worker programs include a number of provisions intended to protect domestic workers. We can debate whether those policies go too far or not far enough, but it is imperative we continue to support our fellow citizens struggling to find work.

We do realize, however, there are times when the supply of domestic labor falls short of demand. For a variety of reasons and despite their best efforts, some employers simply cannot hire the workforce necessary to run their businesses. Guest workers help fill that void.

The Immigration Nationality Act currently includes several guest worker visa programs, such as the H-1B program for highly-skilled workers and the H-2B program for temporary non-agricultural workers. The law allows foreign workers to be admitted for a specific period of time and purpose.

Under the H-2B program specifically, guest workers can enter the United States for up to 10 months and their stay can be extended up to three consecutive years. An employer petitioning for guest workers must certify that domestic workers are unavailable, as well as demonstrate the hiring of foreign workers will not harm the wages and employment of Americans.

We will examine today whether these programs serve the best interests of workers and employers. No doubt that is a large undertaking for one hearing and involves a number of important questions.

For example, do limits on the number of visas issued each year undermine the success of these programs? Will regulatory proposals put forward by the administration make it easier or more difficult for employers to obtain foreign labor? Do we have the right tools in place to ensure protections for American workers are adequately enforced? Do the current temporary visa programs meet the long-term needs of employers seeking lower-skilled workers?

It is difficult for any federal program or law to keep pace with our dynamic economy. Shifting demographics can alter the landscape of America’s workplaces. New industries and technologies constantly change how businesses provide goods and services to consumers.

While such developments often improve our lives, they also raise difficult questions that need to be addressed by policymakers. I hope our hearing today will inform the debate that is taking place nationwide.


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