Business, Ag Groups Support Immigration Overhaul

Jul 18, 2013

Credit Caterpillar

A somewhat unlikely coalition is calling on Illinois' Congressional delegation to support an overhaul of the nation's immigration policy. 

The U.S. issues a special type of temporary visa for high-skilled workers, like the engineers and scientists Caterpillar is trying to hire.

But there's a limit on so-called H-1B visas -- a cap that Caterpillar attorney Mark Peters say the Fortune 500 company reached all too quickly.

"And it capped on the first day," Peters sad.  "Now we cannot recruit new H1 and B employees for over a year and a half, which in my opinion puts us at a distinct disadvantage with our foreign counterparts."

He says not only will those workers go to international competitors, Caterpillar is left with a hole in its workforce.

Peters also says country-specific caps on green-cards mean Caterpillar can't hire all of the Chinese and Indian employees it wants to.

"The reality is we would love to hire all U.S. employees; we pay our foreign employees and our U.S. employees the same.  We just can't do it." - Mark Peters, Caterpillar attorney

Peters says there aren't enough Americans trained in science, engineering and math.

While he says improving education could be a long-term solution, he says Congress should do something about immigration policy in the near-term.

Effect on Agriculture

The Illinois Farm Bureau's Adam Nielsen says dairies across Illinois wouldn't be able to operate without immigrant labor. Nor could agriculture processing plants, like in Beardstown and the Quad Cities.

"You have to look a little beyond the corn and soybeans to see it, but it's there," Nielsen said.  "These are jobs that Americans simply will not work."

But an aide to U.S. Republican Representative Rodney Davis, from Taylorville, says 80-percent of the constituents he's heard from do not support amnesty-style pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

The coalition is trying to convince Congressmen from downstate to support its demands.

Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky contributed to this report.