People like myself all over the country are asking Congress to pass substantive immigration or guest worker reform this year. The chorus of voices continues to expand. Recently the Tea Party Express even endorsed reform. Sal Russo, their co-founder, said “Congress must pass legislation that will fix our broken system. We have the strongest economy in the world, the most innovative businesses, and a history replete with examples of how legal immigration has made us stronger. Conservatives need to seize on immigration reform as an opportunity for growth, to reaffirm who we are and what makes our country great.”
Reform needs to be passed this year. In South Carolina, our farmers, home building, and manufacturing companies in particular are in need of the skills and willingness these workers represent.
South Carolina’s farmers alone contribute more than $2 billion to our state’s economy every year and support nearly 200,000 jobs. But our farmers are facing the same struggles that are weakening the agricultural industry nationwide. Labor shortages are causing farm revenue losses.
The same challenge is facing other industries at all skill levels. Homebuilding, manufacturing, as well as the highly skilled needs of the science and technology fields are also struggling with a lack of workers. As young American workers increasingly obtain college degrees there is simply a lack of interest in agricultural, construction and manufacturing work among the native born. In the science and technology programs at our universities, it is foreign-born students who are opting for these degree programs. However, these students have limited options to remain working in the United States once their student visas expire. In all of these industries, there is an answer to the problem and it lies with foreign-born workers.
In construction, the housing recovery may be short lived without foreign-born workers to fill the many current vacancies. Homebuilding has a tremendous multiplier effect which may not materialize in markets where builders wait weeks for crews to become available. Home Builders Associations around the country are trying to launch training programs to fill the void long term, but struggle to find interested enrollees.
For all of these sectors, the answer lies with allowing employers to access immigrant or guest workers. This would require Congress to make serious changes to our policies and implement visa programs that fit the needs and demands of our economy.
Business leaders from numerous industries are making their voices heard in Washington regarding the importance of immigration reform. Campaigns such as #iFarmimmigration are designed to raise awareness of the serious trouble facing the agriculture industry. Over the past decade consumer demands for fresh fruits and vegetables has increased by about 10 percent, but our reliance on imported produce has increased by 80 percent.