"A guest worker program that fails to provide a sufficient number of visas to meet market demand as the construction sector recovers will inevitably make it harder to fill critical labor openings," said a statement from Associated Builders and Contractors, the National Association of Home Builders and other groups.
Labor unions, worried about members losing jobs to foreign workers, argued that construction should be treated differently from other industries because it can be more seasonal in nature and includes a number of higher-skilled trades.
But the agreement is seen as a boon to employers in long-term care, the hotel and restaurant industry and other low-wage service sectors that are among the fastest-growing job categories in the nation. Seven of the 10 largest occupations in the country now pay less than $30,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We want to hire Americans, we do everything we can to hire Americans, but if no more Americans are available we would like access to those foreign-born workers," said Shawn McBurney, senior vice president of government affairs at the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Many hotels pay $10.50 an hour and up for entry-level housekeeping jobs, McBurney said, and offer employees the potential of working their way up to better jobs.
"Even though the employment rate isn't what we'd like it to be, there are jobs at hotels that Americans just don't want to take, despite the amount of pay we offer, the benefits and the upward mobility," McBurney said.
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