Last week, The AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a "Joint Statement of Shared Principles," offering seeming harmony on future flows in these words:
[There] are instances – even during tough economic times – when employers are not able to fill job openings with American workers. . . . [It] is important that our laws permit businesses to hire foreign workers without having to go through a cumbersome and inefficient process. Our challenge is to create a mechanism that responds to the needs of business in a market-driven way, while also fully protecting the wages and working conditions of U.S. and immigrant workers. Among other things, this requires a new kind of worker visa program that does not keep all workers in a permanent temporary status, provides labor mobility in a way that still gives American workers a first shot at available jobs, and that automatically adjusts as the American economy expands and contracts. . .
[We] need to fix the system so that it is much more transparent, which requires that we build a base of knowledge using real-world data about labor markets and demographics. The power of today’s technology enables us to use that knowledge to craft a workable demand-driven process fed by data that will inform how America addresses future labor shortages. We recognize that there is no simple solution to this issue. We agree that a professional bureau in a federal executive agency, with political independence analogous to the Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS], should be established to inform Congress and the public about these issues.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor [DOL] is the principal Federal agency responsible for measuring labor market activity . . . . As an independent statistical agency, BLS serves its diverse user communities by providing products and services that are objective, timely, accurate, and relevant.
For one, we tried this before and it went nowhere. In 1990 Congress commissioned DOL to set up a three-year experiment requiring a "determination . . . of labor shortages or surpluses in up to 10 defined occupational classifications in the United States . . ." [See the Immigration Act of 1990 § 122(a).]
When the Labor Department proposed its initial list, however, all hell broke out. Labor and business disagreed vociferously over whether the right shortage or surplus occupations had been identified. Unable to take the heat, DOL quickly retreated and, since that time, has maintained that it lacks the data to determine shortage occupations:
Does BLS project future labor shortages or surpluses? No. The BLS projections assume a labor market in equilibrium, i.e., one where overall labor supply meets labor demand except for some degree of frictional unemployment. . . .
Furthermore, attempts by some to ascribe shortages or surpluses to our projections are based on an incorrect comparison of the total employment and total labor force projections, two separate and fundamentally different measures. . . . Users of these data should not assume that the difference between the projected increase in the labor force and the projected increase in employment implies a labor shortage or surplus.
PAPARELLI: So U.S. workers put on their suits and ties and their white shirts and they shine their shoes, and they go to the interview thinking that they have the opportunity that they've been longing for, only to be rejected.
KASTE: Paparelli calls it an empty ritual required by the Department of Labor, as it compels employers to prove a negative, to prove they can't find qualified workers. The result, he says, is pointless job interviews.
[Any] Guest-Worker Program (GWP) should be driven by the labor needs of this country, not emotion, politics, or other subjectivity. These needs must be data-driven. Prior to implementing any GWP, we should develop a much better mechanism in which to determine occupational shortages. The current system is primarily paper-based, thus inefficient, ineffective, and fraud-ridden.
Thought should be given to developing a national jobs or labor data system that is engaged by all states, working collaboratively with the U.S. DOL. States should be required to enter specific labor data and employers should be required to use this system to post and recruit workers, and provide other data needed to determine the labor needs of this country in a progressive, real-time manner. This system could also be engaged to determine and administer permanent employment-based (immigrant) visas, as well as manage the issuance and use of visa numbers.
Moreover, there should be no change in current H-1B requirements relieving all but H-1B dependent employers and willful violators from the duty to recruit for these nonimmigrant visas. As I explained to NPR's Martin Kaste:
These [H-1B] hires have to happen very quickly. The job imperatives that the customers impose are so time-sensitive, that [advance recruitment simply] can't work.
Will the new labor-business accord produce an immigration death panel? The answer is "NO" -- as long as political influence and hackery is kept out of the equation and algorithms digesting state- and employer-fed job openings and hiring data are allowed to produce up-to-the-minute reports of shortage occupations.
But an economy-killing immigration death panel it will assuredly be -- a veritable Dr. Caligari's cabinet -- if instead a "bureau in a federal executive agency . . . [is] established [merely] to inform Congress and the public about these issues."