Examining Proposals to Create a New Commission on Employment-Based Immigration

6/18/2009
Other Papers and Updates

​​​The inability of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 2006 and 2007 has led some to propose a radical change to immigration policy in the form of a commission to set and regulate the annual admission of low- and high-skilled temporary workers and employer-sponsored immigrants (green card holders). There is no evidence such a policy change would solve the political problems that prevented immigration reform legislation from becoming law or that such a commission would be capable of setting appropriate admission levels so U.S. employers can gain access to talent and create more jobs and innovations inside the United States. The main proponents of a commission – the AFL-CIO and Change to Win (endorsing a proposal by Former Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall and the Economic Policy Institute) and the Migration Policy Institute – actually offer diametrically opposite views on what a commission might accomplish. The former seeks to restrict the flow of foreign labor into the United States while the latter hopes to provide greater access.

Both proposals leave many questions unanswered, including a clear definition of the mission of a commission, the structure and accountability of a commission and the methodologies by which a commission will determine which mix of labor skills, quotas and policies are in the best interest of the U.S. economy. To date, no one has made the case that a commission would not become a new set of obstacles employers must overcom​​​e to hire foreign nationals. Even worse, a commission could be an irreversible policy change that threatens to end American companies’ access to highly educated professionals. The commission concept put forward by Marshall would establish an entirely new – and formidable – threshold to be passed before employers could hire foreign workers. Marshall advocates that a commission must find a “certified labor shortage” in an individual’s occupation before one could be admitted on an employer-sponsored temporary visa or green card.

Under the leading proposals, a commission’s annual recommendations would have the force of law unless Congress passed a bill to stop or block the recommendations. If Congress establishes a commission with essentially legislative powers, then Members of Congress would have created a new power center in Washington, D.C. whose authority, in many respects, will rival their own on immigration policy.

Employers would see the most glaring flaw in these proposals as the empowerment of a small group of people to overrule the hiring decisions of thousands of employers. Any attempt to micromanage which foreign-born professionals can be hired is likely to be problematic, since employers do not hire people in the aggregate, in general or economy wide. Businesses engage in ongoing recruitment that identifies individuals who will enable a company to compete better in the domestic or global economy. No small group of people, regardless of their backgrounds, could know how many of such individuals, or which qualifications, U.S. companies as a whole require in a given year.

To focus more attention on this issue, the American Council on International Personnel (ACIP) has posed in this policy paper a series of questions about a commission that employers and policymakers must confront before supporting such a significant, possibly irreversible, and fundamental change in U.S. immigration policy. In conclusion, ACIP recommends that if Congress decides to establish a commission, it should be in a clearly defined and time-limited advisory capacity.

Read ACIP's paper titled "Examining Proposals to Create a New Commission on Employment-Based Immigration".​​

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