The chamber is pushing for a system in which additional visas would be granted when the U.S. economy was strong and unemployment low; the number would be reduced, sometimes significantly, if the unemployment rate rose.
“Current work visa laws contain arbitrary caps that have absolutely no connection to what’s happening in the real world,” Donohue said during a recent panel discussion on immigration at the National Press Club. “Outdated and overly restrictive visa polices are depriving America of both the high- and low-skilled workers that we need. We need a visa system tied to market demands.”
But the AFL-CIO is skeptical and has proposed creating a commission that would analyze the unemployment rate, regional economic conditions and industrial demands before setting and adjusting visa caps.
Heading into the White House on Tuesday, Steve Case, a co-founder and former chief executive of AOL, said he supports increasing the number of visas for highly skilled foreigners.
“I hope he says that he’ll approach comprehensive immigration reform with urgency and in a bipartisan way, and that it’ll include a strong high-skilled immigration component,” Case said of Obama.
In past debates, unions have clashed with one another on some issues. In 2007, the AFL-CIO split with another powerful labor group, the Service Employees International Union, which favored the Senate bill that included phasing out the guest-worker program after five years.
Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the SEIU, said his organization supported the bill only to get it into the House, where it could have been amended again.
This time, he said, labor is united.
“At that time, the Democrats were in charge. So we said, ‘If we stop it in the Senate, it’s not going to go anywhere,’ ” Medina said. “What happened was they killed it, and that was it. But this year, we’re on the same page.”
Rosalind S. Helderman and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.