Let's Find a Solution to the Immigration Problem
The latest employment projections from NAHB indicate that our industry will need to build 18 million new homes over the next decade. This will generate more than one million new jobs for the residential home building industry.
Because our nation’s population is “graying,” every year we come to depend more and more on foreign-born workers. In fact, NAHB estimates that 23% of our current residential construction workforce is foreign-born. With California birthrates accounting for 70% of our population growth and more baby boomers heading for retirement every day, the home building industry will be looking more and more towards a foreign-born labor pool to build homes for this growing population.
This is why NAHB invests considerable time and resources into training and recruiting the growing number of workers needed to build homes today and tomorrow. From developing the Home Builders Institute — NAHB’s education and workforce subsidiary and the largest private partner in Jobs Corps — to our most recent efforts supporting comprehensive immigration reform bills in Congress earlier this spring, NAHB is striving to find viable solutions to our immigration problem
In September, the NAHB Board of Directors passed Resolution 4A. It found that sustaining our economy while meeting the nation’s housing needs requires a substantial immigrant workforce. NAHB called upon Congress to make comprehensive reforms to the nation’s immigration laws including:
- A new visa system allowing immigrants to legally enter the construction workforce each year and be put on the path to temporary or permanent legal residency or citizenship
- Official support for congressional efforts to address illegal immigrant population concerns
- Creating a system whereby illegal immigrants can achieve temporary or permanent legal residency or citizenship
- Promptly pursuing changes in the criteria for a flexible visa classification to address the needs of our industry for a labor supply sufficient to meet the nation’s housing needs
Under the current system, the estimated backlog for visa applications for workers hoping to enter the U.S. legally is up to seven years and caps are in place for the number of visas issued each year for employment-based entry. Immigration law currently allots only 140,000 employment-based visas to immigrants each year, with only 40,000 of those visas targeted for skilled and unskilled workers. This is why NAHB supports the creation of a guest worker program to allow foreign-born individuals to apply for the right to work legally in this country for a set time and possibly pursue opportunities for permanent residency or citizenship. Of course, no “solution” is acceptable unless it requires participants to be held to the same standards as U.S. workers.
Where we are being particularly vigilant is in making sure reforms don’t force private businesses to enforce immigration policies. While business owners clearly have a responsibility to ensure that employees are eligible to work here, forcing employers to shoulder the burden of policing citizenship documentation will simply sabotage the economic growth and freedom that attracts immigrants in the first place.
Ray Fernandez is president of the Baldy View Chapter of the Building Industry Association of Southern California.