The Arizona Republic reports that a new foreign-worker program, and a new "W" visa, would be created as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package that could be proposed by the Senate as early as this week. According to the details of an "agreement in principle" that the labor giant AFL-CIO provided Saturday, the new program--tentatively set to begin April 1, 2015, with 20,000 available "W" visas--would not be a temporary-worker system as envisioned in past attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Instead, after 12 months, workers in the program would be allowed to self-petition for permanent legal status. They also would not need to rely on a single employer and could switch jobs. The wages paid to the incoming future workers would be the greater of either the actual wages the employer pays to other similarly qualified and experienced employees or the U.S. Department of Labor's prevailing wage level for the occupational classification in the area of employment, according to the AFL-CIO. The argument over wages had been a major stumbling block in the negotiations between the chamber and the labor federation. In conjunction with the new worker program, a new federal agency called the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research also would be created within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Under the plan described by the AFL-CIO, the number of available “W” visas would grow to 35,000 in the program's second year; to 55,000 in the third year; and to 75,000 in the fourth year. Beyond that, the number of visas would be based on a formula tied to the unemployment rate and other economic factors, but there would never be fewer than 20,000 or more than 200,000 “W” visas available during any year. The new “W” visas would benefit employers seeking low-skilled immigrants to do non-agricultural and non-seasonal work in areas such as the hospitality, retail and construction industries. Only 15,000 or fewer visas would go to construction-industry workers in a year.