President Bush's Immigration Reform Proposal:How Will It Affect The U.S.?

Monday, March 1, 2004 - 01:00

On January 7 President George W. Bush announced a new Immigration Reform
Proposal offering a safe and legal working environment for foreigners currently
employed in the United States without proper documentation. Although President
Bush reiterates that his proposal is not an amnesty program, undocumented
foreigners who pay a one-time fine and register with the temporary worker
program will be given the chance to earn better wages, be protected by fair
labor laws, and receive authorization to travel freely back and forth from their
home country.

The temporary worker program would ultimately be a way for
unskilled workers around the world to gain entry into the U.S. for legal
temporary employment, with the potential to gain permanent residency. It would
afford undocumented foreigners the opportunity to legalize their status, receive
the same protection other workers receive from labor laws, have the right to
change jobs, receive fair wages, and the right to work without fear in a safe
and healthy work environment.

Benefits To The U.S.

Clearly,
undocumented foreigners already in the U.S. and unskilled foreigners outside the
U.S. will receive tremendous benefits if the Bush administration's proposal
receives Congressional approval. But how will the proposed temporary worker
program potentially benefit the U.S.?

The Bush administration emphasizes
that the temporary worker program will create a more prosperous economy for the
U.S. The program will create a system to match willing workers with hiring
employers quickly and simply when no American worker is available and willing to
take the job. Under the proposal, U.S. employers must make every effort to hire
American workers first. When no American workers are willing and able to fill
the positions, then the temporary worker program would serve to efficiently
match workers and employers to keep the economy moving forward. The Bush
administration has stated that the program would continue to match temporary
workers with employers even during times of economic downturn.

The
temporary worker program will protect the U.S. by controlling the country's
borders. Agreements with countries participating in the temporary worker program
will streamline efforts to document legal status of incoming and outgoing
foreigners. Access to the temporary worker program would require undocumented
foreigners to register and provide information regarding their current
residence, employment, border exits and entries, and biometric information. This
information would shed light on an entire population currently undocumented and
allow for more safety and control at U.S. borders.

The temporary worker
program would also serve to promote compassion among Americans by finally
recognizing the undocumented foreigners who have been living, working, and
paying taxes in their communities for years as neighbors and friends. Employment
standards will be raised and exploitation of these workers will no longer be
possible. These changes enhance employment conditions for all Americans.

Benefits To U.S. Companies

The Bush administration believes that the
immigration reform proposal will benefit the U.S. by ensuring a more prosperous
economy, controlled borders, and a more compassionate country. But how will the
temporary worker program directly impact U.S. companies?

The Bush
administration's proposal is directed toward large businesses in the service
industries such as hotels, medical facilities and nursing homes, companies that
are likely to need many new workers each year. While companies will benefit from
the increased pool of available workers, U.S. companies in these industries that
participate in the temporary worker program can be assured of greater employee
documentation requirements. Documentation of temporary workers as they are hired
and as they depart from employment will mean more paperwork and more time and
cost spent on administrating these changes. The administration has indicated
that the temporary worker program is unlikely to impact small business
owners.

Employers will be required to make every reasonable effort to
find an American to fill the job before selecting a foreign worker from the
temporary worker program. This will result in increased recruitment and
advertising for open positions. Under the proposal, foreign workers filling
positions under the temporary worker program must be treated fairly and receive
the same safe employment conditions as American workers.

Under the Bush
proposal, U.S. employers can count on enhanced enforcement of immigration laws.
Companies who break the law and hire undocumented works will be penalized,
including those who continue to retain foreigners in the temporary worker
program whose status has expired.

Should these immigration reforms be
implemented, U.S. employers will need to document the work authorization of
their employees more closely, increase their recruitment for open positions to
ensure every effort has been made to offer every job to a willing and able
American worker, and ensure that every worker is treated fairly under the labor
laws of the U.S.

Planning For The Future

The immigration reform
proposal will undoubtedly create debate and dialogue from both supporters and
those opposed to the program. At this early stage, the Bush administration's
proposal will likely go through many changes before meeting Congress' approval.
What should U.S. companies do now while waiting for the immigration reform
proposals to be implemented?

First, U.S. companies should ensure they are
in compliance with current immigration laws and regulations governing the hiring
of American and foreign workers. It may be advisable for the company to
undertake an audit of its current hiring practices and documentation procedures
to ensure its compliance.

Second, U.S. companies may consider reviewing
their advertising and job posting strategies and efforts to demonstrate the need
for foreign workers. Companies can begin now to keep documentation showing their
inability to find available American workers.

Changes in the global
business environment have permanently altered the make-up of the business labor
pool. Immigration concerns are no longer the exclusive realm of multinational
companies and giant conglomerates. Any organization that intends to add to its
workforce may face immigration compliance issues. Experienced attorneys
specializing in immigration law can provide critical assistance as companies
review their compliance with existing immigration employment laws and as
companies assess new opportunities under the Bush Administration
proposals. With expert assistance, companies can seamlessly make the
transition to international employment and assess their ability to benefit from
the Bush Administration proposal and other changes to immigration
laws.

David W. Cook is a Partner of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and
Pease LLP where he represents businesses and individuals in all areas of
immigration law and general corporate matters. He can be reached at (614)
464-5459 or dwcook@vssp.com.