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Business owners: Worker shortages stand in way of Inflation Reduction Act projects

Aug. 16 marks one year since the the Inflation Reduction Act was enacted.

It was a landmark piece of legislation that promised to fund sweeping projects across the U.S. But a group of business leaders say labor shortages are standing in the way of those opportunities a year later.

On a press call organized by the American Business Immigration Coalition on Tuesday, Lisa Winton, CEO of Georgia-based Winton Machine Company, said fewer young Americans are pursuing careers in construction and manufacturing businesses. And immigrants who are ready and qualified to do machinist work and other skilled labor can’t, because of their immigration status. 

"I heard from one recent candidate who had applied for his green card eight years ago. And his employers are continuing to assist with his H1B visa renewal," she said. "I'm here to tell you that we could not have survived for the last 25 years without immigrant workers, our first employee, all those years ago, Tron, who arrived to the United States as a refugee from Vietnam, is still with us today."

Applications for all types of visas — including the skilled labor type called H1B — are stuck in a yearslong backlog at Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

Winton and other business owners, including several from Arizona, signed onto a  letterasking President Joe Biden to expand workforce authorization for immigrants amid congressional failure to pass reforms. 

"For far too long, business leaders and employers of small and large operations across the U.S. have been struggling with labor shortages, bureaucratic delays in the processing of visas for foreign workers, and other issues stemming from the outdated immigration system," the letter read. "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."

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.