Congress Still Strongly Opposes Trade Pacts Allowing Temporary Entry of Foreign Workers

Original Publication Date: 
25 May, 2005

The U.S. Congress will continue to oppose any agreement negotiated at the World Trade Organization that would allow foreign business and professional personnel to enter the United States to work on a temporary basis, a key congressional staffer said May 25.

George M. Fishman, chief counsel with the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims, said that, despite increasing pressure from U.S. companies expressing a continuing need for such personnel, members of Congress from both parties remain strongly opposed to including what he called 'immigration' provisions in trade pacts.

'These programs have to go through the normal legislative process,' he said, 'and [they] will be considered by Congress as immigration provisions .... As long as services are being provided by human beings who are not U.S. citizens on U.S. territory, Congress views that as an immigration matter.'

Fishman's comments came as the United States was preparing to submit its revised market-opening offer on services trade at the WTO by the end of this month.

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Peter F. Allgeier was asked by reporters May 25 if the offer would deal with the labor-mobility issue, known as Mode4 in the WTO talks. He said only that the offer will be submitted on schedule by the end of May.

Fishman, speaking at a conference organized by the Washington International Trade Association, said that Congress may be amenable to creating a new temporary entry visa for skilled workers but that it would only consider doing so through legislation, not by way of a trade agreement negotiated by the administration.

He said that opposition to putting immigration provisions in trade agreements is not only the stance of Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr.(R-Wis.) of the House Judiciary Committee, but also of members of Congress 'on a bipartisan basis.'

Sensenbrenner earlier this year wrote to Peter F. Allgeier, who was serving as acting U.S. trade representative at the time, arguing that including immigration matters in trade agreements 'degrades Congress' ability to exercise its plenary powers.'

Fishman said May 25 that this does not mean that Sensenbrenner or other members of Congress would not be open to 'well-reasoned changes in [U.S.] immigration policy' suggested by U.S. business. But he said that any changes would need to be implemented 'through the normal legislative process.'

'I don't believe Congress is going to change its mind,' he said.

Fishman said that Sensenbrenner had received assurances from Robert B.Zoellick when he was serving as U.S. trade representative--before he moved to the State Department to become deputy secretary of state in February--that the administration would not negotiate trade agreements that include immigration provisions, and that he expects the new U.S. trade representative--Rob Portman--to honor the commitment.

J. Robert Vastine, president of the Coalition of Service Industries, said last month that his group and several others had forwarded an informal proposal to the House Judiciary Committee suggesting the creation of a temporary entry visa for business professionals.

Vastine said that the committee had expressed interest in the proposal and had asked CSI for more information demonstrating the need for such visas.