Congress pushed on seasonal worker's visas

GlobeNew England officials cite summer needs
Cape Cod & The Islands bring in more than 5,000 seasonal workers from nations ranging from Jamaica to Bulgaria

By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff

WASHINGTON -- New England lawmakers, worried that seasonal businesses will face shortages of laborers to cut timber, press apple cider, staff summer camps, and wait on tables at resort areas, are pushing Congress to allow tens of thousands more immigrant workers to temporarily enter the country.

The PlanBut their legislation, filed this week, is drawing fire from anti-immigration activists who argue that increasing seasonal immigrant employment hurts American workers by helping businesses keep wages low.

''Businesses that hire temporary immigrant workers know very well that they are going to pay them less than they would have to pay Americans," said Paul Egan of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates reducing all forms of immigration. ''So [temporary worker visas] contribute to the further deterioration of wages and working conditions for American workers."

Supporters, however, say the legislation would still require businesses to prove that they cannot find Americans to fill the jobs before they are allowed to bring in seasonal workers. Backers expressed hope that the bill will pass before summer, but its prospects are unclear in a political climate resistant to increased immigration.

Still, they say, more seasonal workers are critical to help resorts and other summer industries supplement their workforce.

''Very few people apply for these jobs," said Jane Nichols Bishop, who recruits seasonal workers for businesses in the Cape Cod region. ''Most Americans would prefer year-round employment. And you must offer the state's minimum wage for that industry. So [seasonal] visas do not take away jobs from Americans. The jobs are offered to the Americans first."

Bishop said businesses on Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard bring in more than 5,000 seasonal workers from nations ranging from Jamaica to Bulgaria each summer. She said the temporary immigrants earn about $9 to $12 an hour working as landscapers, bus drivers, housekeepers, cooks, waitresses, and busboys, then return home in the winter.

The federal government has long capped the number of seasonal worker visas at 66,000 a year. But in 2004, the demand by seasonal businesses exceeded 66,000 for the first time, and Cape Cod businesses were especially hard hit... Read the rest here.

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