The Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO reached an agreement Thursday over a visa program aimed at lesser-skilled workers, a flashpoint in the ongoing debate over immigration reform.
The announcement follows weeks of meetings between Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka over the issue, left out of the immigration plan unveiled by the White House.
The joint statement of principles outlined elements both sides sought and acknowledged more work is necessary to turn their ideas into legislation.
Under the agreement, American citizens will learn of low-wage job opportunities first, a perceived win for labor. Employers will be able to hire foreign workers regardless of the state of unemployment in the United States, a perceived win for business. And both sides agreed to gather additional data about labor markets and demographics to aid in future employment deficiencies, according to the statement.
"We are now in the middle -- not the end -- of this process, and we pledge to continue to work together and with our allies and our representatives on Capitol Hill to finalize a solution that is in the interest of this country we all love," the release read.
The progress between the two groups shows that support for immigration reform is "widespread."
"This is an urgent national priority and Congress should act accordingly," Blair Latoff Holmes, senior director of communications at the Chamber, said in a statement.
President Barack Obama met with representatives from both sides earlier in the month as they worked toward a deal. Labor was concerned about workers from outside the United States taking jobs otherwise available American workers and business was intent on keeping a flow of workers into the country.
Thursday's message from the Chamber and AFL-CIO will likely help shepherd an agreement on the controversial topic while plans from lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the White House are debated.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the statement of principles is the latest example of progress on immigration reform but would not say if the president would support the proposals for low-skilled workers.
"But we're focused on the bill the Senate hopefully will produce soon as part of this effort," Carney said. "I'm not going to prejudge a bill that has not been written."
A spokesman for Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" working on immigration reform, questioned the president's position over a guest-worker program.
"An effective guest-worker program is a key principle agreed to by the bipartisan group of senators, and we are working out details in the ongoing Senate discussions," Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said. "Given the bipartisan support for a guest worker program, the President's continued refusal to support it is puzzling."