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Current Immigration Policy Mucking up Construction

Here are some looming facts that everyone in the construction sector should have learned by now, but many have not.

  • First, according to the AGC, 75% of US construction companies are hiring.
  • Second, according to the latest economic reports, the economy is expanding and unemployment for Blacks and Hispanics are at record lows.
  • Third, the number of available jobs equals the current unemployment, a first in over a decade.
  • Fourth, even though the Trump Administration has proposed changes to extend the DACA program, neither party wants to make those changes before the mid- term elections.
  • Fifth, every undocumented worker in the construction industry lives in fear of an audit on the jobsite where they work.
  • Sixth, the construction industry needs more qualified construction workers to meet the demand in both the residential and commercial sectors.
  • Seventh, the proposed infrastructure programs will require even more construction workers.
  • Eighth, some companies are offering hiring bonuses for qualified craft workers.
  • Ninth, the education systems are just now realizing that they need to reinstitute some type of vocational programs for those students who choose not to go to college.
  • Tenth, the growing skills gap will likely get worse before it gets better and labor as well as construction costs will rise according to supply and demand rules.

According to a recent article in Engineering News Record titled What Will The Immigration Muddle Mean For Construction Employers? the situation is getting tough and the authors say that the only way to address these shortages is to change the immigration laws to provide some sense of permanence for those 2 million plus immigrant workers who currently are at risk.

The article quotes Ray Perryman, a Texas-based economist: “’The bottom line is that the U.S. needs the immigrant workforce,’ [Perryman] says, noting that in Texas, ‘there are more undocumented individuals working than there are unemployed people,’ and that their need in construction ‘is particularly acute.’”

From the same article:

“Stan Marek, CEO of the Houston specialty contractor Marek Bros. Systems, says the local market can’t survive without an immigrant workforce.

“‘I could hire 500 people tomorrow, if they had an I-9,’ he says. ‘We need anyone who can pass a background check.’ Marek says he may even spend up to $5,000 per worker to obtain some form of legal status, such as a visa, to allow them to gain training and experience.

“Marek advocates for what he calls an ‘ID and tax’ plan that would enable immigrants living in the U.S. for more than 10 years to earn a federal ID card if they could pass a background check. The ID would allow the person to legally work for an employer, who would pay taxes on that worker. ‘You’d bring millions of people out of the shadows with that system,’ he says.”

So, now is the time for the Industry to step out with a loud voice to tell the politicians on both sides of the aisle that even near-term construction projects will be put on hold pending action on immigration policies. Should Congress not heed the cries from the industry, they will likely hear the voices in the voting booth this fall.