WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The largest American union and the country's biggest business lobby group said Thursday they agreed on principles for revamping the low-skilled worker visa program, a move hailed as major progress that could hasten immigration reform in Congress.
The AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said they agreed on three principles that would ensure that American workers get the first crack at jobs, create a new kind of guest worker program and establish another bureaucracy to analyze labor trends and advise Congress.
Although the principles were vague, they represented concessions from both sides. Unions, which oppose guest worker programs because they say they allow employers to exploit workers, agreed to create a "new kind of worker visa program that does not keep all workers in a permanent temporary status," the two sides said in a statement.
And businesses, which want the freedom to hire whom they want and are traditionally opposed to further government intervention, agreed that a "professional bureau" in a federal agency was needed to inform lawmakers and the public on labor shortages.
The two sides have been negotiating for weeks in parallel with a group of Republican and Democratic senators who are crafting a comprehensive bill that would allow the millions of illegal immigrants a way to earn U.S. citizenship.
The bipartisan Senate group is aiming to unveil their legislation before April. The new agreement will strengthen the hand of lawmakers because it demonstrates backing by two key constituencies for the effort.
"The fact that business and labor have agreed on principles is a major step forward," said Democrat Charles Schumer, who is part of the bipartisan Senate group.
"We are very hopeful that an agreement can be reached on a specific proposal in the next few weeks."
Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank who specializes in immigration policy, said the deal demonstrated concessions by the two groups.
"Obviously the more you get into the details of implementation the harder it gets. But at the level of broad principles, this seems to present significant compromises on both sides," he said.
(Reporting By Rachelle Younglai; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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