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Poll Suggests American Support for Guest Workers Varies by Industry, Demographics

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New numbers provided by the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll suggest that Americans want immigrants with skills, just not high-tech skills. The interesting numbers show that Americans support immigration for agricultural work, but not for sectors in which the most help is needed. As Congress continues to negotiate a new immigration bill, it seems the views of lawmakers are fairly on par with the views of the electorate.

A majority of those polls want to see fewer guest workers in the construction industry:

When asked about allowing more guest workers for three important economic sectors, survey respondents were the most positive — but still lukewarm at best — about adding more guest workers in the agricultural industry. Forty-four percent said Congress should allow more guest workers in agriculture, while 43 percent said there should be fewer.

Meanwhile, about twice as many people said the U.S. needs fewer guest construction workers (61 percent), while 30 percent said the country needs more guest construction workers.

Another sector that fared poorly was high-tech, with only 34 percent of respondents saying they favored more guest workers for high-tech industries and 55 percent saying they favored fewer.

This discrepancy in support for immigration in various fields boils down to self-interest. In short, support is higher for sectors in which people do not desire to work while it is lower in sectors deemed more desirable:

“I think people realize that immigrants are picking our crops and putting food on our tables,” Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said of the higher approval for importing more agriculture workers. “I think that resonates more clearly in people’s minds.” At the same time, Noorani continued, considering the personal impact of immigration reform — especially during a time of extended economic weakness — can spook people when the conversation turns to specific jobs. “At the end of the day, people say, ‘What is this going to mean for me?’ And there are not a whole lot of public policy issues like that,” Noorani said.

However, this trend was not uniform along all demographics.  Among whites surveyed, there were major differences in opinion between those with a college education and those without.

Among whites, college degree-holders were uniformly more likely than non-college graduates to support allowing more guest workers — even into high-skilled industries where guest workers could compete with them for jobs. Forty-four percent of white respondents with bachelor’s degrees said Congress should write legislation allowing for more guest workers in high-tech industries, while only 25 percent of those who didn’t finish college agreed.

That tracks with college-educated whites’ feelings about immigration in general: While nearly a third of non-college whites said immigrants now living in the U.S. illegally should not be allowed to stay, just 20 percent of white college graduates said the same.

College-educated whites were also more favorable toward allowing more guest workers in the agricultural and construction industries: 50 percent said more agricultural workers should be allowed, versus 39 percent of whites without college degrees; and 30 percent of white college graduates favored allowing more guest construction workers, compared with 22 percent of non-college graduates.

The poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from June 13 to 16. 1,004 adults were surveyed.  The poll has a margin of error of 3.6 percent.


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