Bush proposes temporary work permits for immigrants

A new proposal from the Bush administration could make it a lot easier for foreign workers to get legal jobs in construction without a green card.

The immigration bill would allow immigrants to apply for temporary work permits, which would make them eligible for minimum wage and workplace safety laws. If made into law, it would have a drastic effect on the construction industry, where non-citizen Hispanics make up approximately 15 percent of total employment. If the number of immigrants including illegal workers is calculated, the percentage is probably much higher.

Under the proposal, immigrant workers would be protected by U.S. labor laws and would be eligible for health care packages and retirement plans and could open tax-deferred savings accounts.

According to Associated General Contracors CEO Stephen Sandherr, the proposal could help alleviate workforce shortages in construction.

“The construction industry is creating jobs, but in many cases, no one is there to fill this need,” Sandherr said. “This proposal is an opportunity to help contractors expand their workforce and create jobs and taxpayers.”

There is no limit to how many immigrants could get temporary work permits, and workers can bring their family members with them if they can prove they can support them. To get a work permit, undocumented workers already in the United States would have to pay a registration fee and show they are employed. Those outside the country must prove there is a job waiting for them. The temporary work visa would be good for three years and could be renewed. The workers could eventually apply for a green card, although only 140,000 green cards are issued each year.

Although the Bush administration announced the proposal Wednesday, there are still vague areas, which the administration plans to “work out.” Some Democrats criticize the plan, saying it is a ploy to get the Latino vote during the 2004 presidential election.