Idaho Labor Dept: Save Our Foreign Workers

Idaho needs its foreign workers. That's the message Idaho Department of Labor chief Roger Madsen sent to the Idaho Congressional delegation today.

"Idaho’s low unemployment rate makes it difficult to recruit enough United States workers to meet employer demands," Madsen wrote.

He's asking the delegation to support legislation that exempts returning foreign seasonal nonagricultural workers from the federal cap on annual visas.

In his letter to Sens. Larry Craig and Michael Crapo and Reps. Michael Simpson and Bill Sali, Madsen said if the exemption isn't in place soon, Idaho employers won't be able to hire enough workers because the 66,000 limit of foreign nonagricultural workers legally allowed into the U.S. has already been met.

"This action will severely affect the ability of Idaho employers who recruit foreign workers to maintain their work forces in the face of extremely low unemployment," Madsen wrote.

Last year, 90 Idaho employers were authorized to hire 2,200 documented foreign workers for nonagricultural jobs.

Seasonal work is the issue here: ski resorts, tree planting businesses and other time-sensitive operations rely on the seasonal help of foreign workers.

The exemption from the limit on foreign workers who had been hired previously and are returning to those jobs was part of the 2005 Save Our Small Business Act, which expired on Sept. 30 and has not been renewed by Congress. Legislation continuing the law has been caught up in the debates over immigration and better wages and protections for American workers.

According to the Idaho Dept. of Labor, a one-year extension of the exemption was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate on Oct. 16 as part of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Bill and is now the subject of House-Senate negotiators trying to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget bill.