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Report: Immigration restrictions hurting construction sector

Federal restrictions on immigration could hinder an already-struggling workforce, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

Some 70 percent of the group’s membership report having a difficult time finding workers as the US’ Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2017 report shows that more than nine percent of the foreign-born workers have jobs in construction, whereas more than four percent of the native born workforce have construction jobs.

“The number one concern of the industry right now is finding qualified and trained workers,” said Jimmy Christianson, AGC’s vice president of government relations.

“When you have a significant worker shortage and you have a significant portion of your workforce that is immigrant labor, it’s a recipe for difficulty in getting workers.”

The AGC recently sent a letter to the House of Representatives urging them to look into legal immigration reform. The letter criticizes parts of “The Securing America’s Future Act” and “The Border Security and Immigration Reform Act” that would tighten the process of legal immigration.

“We can’t support legislation that’s not going to do anything for the millions of people who are already undocumented here as well as undercut the existing avenues for immigration,” Christianson said.

Real estate think tank the Counselors of Real Estate has listed immigration as one of the top ten issues facing the industry.

The believes that if immigration is reduced by law, the skilled labor shortage wwill worsen and homebuying and rentals would be impacted negatively.

Jeffrey Havsy, an economist and member of the Counselors of Real Estate, said two major factors are contributing to the construction workforce shortage,— a currently aging workforce and the cultural norm for young adults to go to traditional four-year colleges and seek office jobs instead of a trade.

Havsy said that the short-term effects will be difficulty filling construction job openings and while, in the longer term, technology could step in to fill the labor gap.

“This will speed up the process and technology will become more cost-effective as it gets harder to find workers,” Havsy said.

“Bringing on new technology is expensive and there’s a learning curve and a cost involved, but this will help justify the costs if there’s such a great shortage of workers.”

To combat the possible deterioration of the industry, AGC recommended several reforms in their letter to the federal government.

According to Christianson, the AGC has pushed for reforms like a pathway toward earned legalization and extending work authorization for individuals with Temporary Protective Status, a program that gives immigrants who faced natural disasters or ongoing conflict the ability to work in the US.

The AGC also has been looking into a temporary guest worker system for more than two decades, Christianson added. He explained that the country should allow for temporary immigrant workers to help out industries that are facing high unemployment rates.

While AGC agreed with some of the two bills’ points, like increasing border security efforts, their main gripe with them was the possible restrictions on legal immigration.

“Immigration is one of the things we’re looking to help mitigate the effects of the workforce shortage,” Christianson said. “If you don’t have enough workers to do the work, costs will go up and since costs go up, contractors and developers would have to share the burden.”

As the bills move through Congress, “Securing America’s Future Act” is being reconsidered, while “Border Security and Immigration Reform Act” has been postponed. And those in the industry are hoping that positive reform for immigration will come out of them.

“Not only do we need skilled labor with agriculture, at hotels and restaurants, we need immigration across multiple skillsets,” Havsy said.

“I think having additional legal immigration across skillsets will be beneficial for the country and the economy and will help us grow faster.”

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