Business leaders: Solution to dire worker shortage is immigration reform

By: - August 24, 2023 9:37 am
Arizona infrastructure construction earmarks

Photo by Jenna Miller | Cronkite News

More than a year after its passage, the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act is creating jobs all over the country, including in Arizona — but the United States doesn’t have enough skilled workers to fill those jobs. 

In hopes of easing the workforce shortage, more than 120 business leaders across the country, including nine from Arizona, signed onto a letter from American Business Immigration Coalition Action asking President Joe Biden and his administration to expand work permits for immigrants. 

While there are billions of dollars on the line in IRA projects, James O’Neill, political director at ABIC, told reporters during a press conference last week that excitement about the projects is muted because the labor shortage makes it difficult for some companies to even consider bidding on those projects. 


Donnie Gibson, CEO at general engineering contractor Civil Werx in Nevada, who spoke on behalf of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, told reporters that the older generation of homebuilders are aging out of the workforce en masse and there aren’t enough young people interested in the trade to take their place. 

“It’s an economic emergency,” Gibson said. “That’s a great argument for employing a motivated immigrant population.” 

He added that the cost of the shortage, including paying higher wages and more training for workers, is passed onto consumers. 

And Arizona is feeling the crunch of the worker shortage, just like its neighbor to the northwest. 

The IRA has brought billions of dollars in investments to Arizona and created thousands of jobs, but that doesn’t mean the state has enough workers to fill them. 

TSMC, a semiconductor manufacturer based in Taiwan, pushed back the opening date of its Arizona chip factory from 2024 to 2025 because the company could not find enough workers in the U.S. with the proper skills to install its equipment, according to reporting from Construction Drive. 

In June, the company announced that it would bring in hundreds of its own construction workers from Taiwan to help bolster its construction labor force, Reuters reported. 

Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives at Associated General Contractors of America, told reporters during the press conference that labor shortages in the construction industry means it takes longer and costs more to build pretty much anything. 

In a survey last year by Associated General Contractors, more than 90% of construction firms reported that they had trouble finding workers, Turmail said, and the two major reasons are that there aren’t enough candidates who are qualified and many of them can’t pass a drug test. 

This causes projects to be scaled back, postponed or canceled, he added. 

And firms that are committed to staying above board are in competition with those who can underbid them because they hire undocumented workers who are often vulnerable to exploitation because of their immigration status and are paid markedly less than documented workers.  

That’s one of the reasons that the Associated General Contractors of America is advocating for the establishment of a temporary market-based worker visa program to help ease the worker shortage while continuing to push for comprehensive immigration reform.

Lisa Winton, CEO of Winton Machine Company in Georgia, lamented that machinists are also aging out of the industry with not enough U.S. workers to replace them. 

“I don’t have the people to fill the positions in my company in order to grow,” she said. 

Winton said she’d been running an ad for the past five months looking for machinists. She spoke to one candidate who she wanted to hire, but he applied for a green card eight years ago and has still not gotten it. His current employer is supporting him through that process, but Winton said her small company couldn’t take on that kind of challenge without help from the federal government. 

She also urged the federal government to issue more work permits for industries struggling to find interested and qualified workers. 

“We respectfully request that you expand a special category of immigration permits for individuals who can fill positions where labor shortages exist, for people migrating to the U.S. and long-term immigrant contributors like Dreamers, farm workers, and essential workers,” ABIC said in the letter to the Biden administration. 

The coalition advocated for a bipartisan plan from Republican Govs. Eric Holcomb of Indiana and Spencer Cox of Utah, with the support of Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, which would give states the authority to sponsor immigrant workers, allowing each state to decide how many visas are needed for each industry annually. 

“If we as a country can’t produce our own workers, we have to absolutely think outside the box here,” Gibson said. 


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Caitlin Sievers
Caitlin Sievers

Caitlin joined the Arizona Mirror in 2022 with almost 10 years of experience as a reporter and editor, holding local government leaders accountable from newsrooms across the West and Midwest. She's won statewide awards in Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin for reporting, photography and commentary.