The home-building industry plays a vital role in sustaining the American economy and meeting our nation’s housing needs. Thankfully, we have experienced welcomed improvements in the housing market in the last few years, and this momentum has driven economic growth nationwide. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), housing construction and the value of housing-related services currently account for approximately 15 percent of the United States’ Gross Domestic Product. However, recent success is met with new challenges.
Immigrant labor is essential to fill necessary positions in the industry, yet current immigration policies have caused significant obstacles for builders. Immigration reform is key for the home-building industry to continue to thrive and address the housing needs in our country. However, Congress must be mindful and pass sensible immigration reform that repairs our outdated immigration system but does not impose significant burdens on small businesses in the industry.
Small businesses dominate the home-building industry. In 2012, 80 percent of NAHB’s members had fewer than 10 employees. The industry is in need of immigration reform that addresses the necessity of a fair and workable employer verification system and includes visa programs that appropriately reflect the needs of the construction industry. Congress is considering an expansion of the electronic employment verification system (E-Verify) to ensure employers hire only immigrants legally authorized to work in the United States. A mandatory E-verify system would address issues of illegal immigrant labor. However, the system must be fair, efficient and not impose substantial mandates on employers.
The turnaround in the housing market in recent years has presented labor challenges for construction within the home-building industry. According to the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, the number of open and unfilled jobs in the construction sector increased by 51 percent, from 95,000 to 143,000, between December 2012 and December 2013. This labor shortage has resulted in delays in project completion and lost or cancelled sales.
The industry has put forth efforts to recruit and train American-born workers, but the ever-increasing demand for workers cannot be met without additional immigrant laborers. By employing immigrant laborers, we are not only filling necessary positions in the construction sector, but also creating additional jobs in related industries. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, for every 100 temporary worker visas issued, 464 jobs are created or preserved for American-born workers.
Congress must implement a new market-based visa system that allows more immigrants to legally enter the construction workforce each year. It is crucial that the home building industry have the requisite number of workers to avoid delays or canceled work. This new program will complement the ongoing training efforts of American workers, create additional jobs for native-born workers, and address the labor shortage necessary to meet the nation’s housing needs.