Since 1990, new immigrants have entered the American work force in unprecedented numbers and altered its makeup as never before. In few industries is the change more apparent than construction. Confronted with a shortage of American workers, most segments of the industry have leaned heavily on the growing numbers of foreign-born workers.
But while many Reader Panel members say immigrants contribute to their projects, the majority only uses foreign-born workers for day labor or subcontracted work. Even among readers who say immigrants have alleviated local worker shortages, the majority don't employ foreign-born workers full time.
That disparity points to the challenges inherent in employing workers who don't speak English well in an industry where clear communication, particularly with customers, is vital.
While a few Panel members also say they've had bad experiences with immigrant crews, most see things differently: Among those readers who observe a difference in the work habits of foreign-born and American workers, 73% say the difference is that foreign-born workers work harder and more diligently than their American-born counterparts.
Perhaps that explains why 60% of our Panel members say they would be willing to sponsor a worker for permanent residency.
Do foreign-born workers have different work habits or routines than American workers?
"They ... work diligently when on the clock, and they seem to work well as a team."
Mike Dew, Oak Tree Construction, Schaumburg, Ill.
"Most seem to work harder and longer than some of our American crews, but safety is not their main concern."
John Watkins, Watkins Home Improvement, Winder, Ga.
"They are willing to work and don't feel as though they should get a paycheck just for being on the payroll. Their work ethic makes the younger American workers look sick."
Philip Goble, Toblin Enterprises, Woodbridge, Va.
"It seems as though as long as the end product looks good, it doesn't matter what kind of a mess is created."
Jeff Ratcliffe, Jeff of All Trades, North Grovsnerdale, Conn.
"They work longer hours, but take longer lunches, and, many times, they cook their lunches on site."
Gary Eichhorst, Eichhorst & Co., Spring Grove, Ill.
"Working 8 to 5 means nothing to these workers; evenings, Saturdays, Sundays — they never stop working.
Steven Pompei, Pompei's Home Remodeling, Santa Fe, N.M.
Describe your experiences, or those of friends or colleagues, sponsoring foreign-born workers for permanent residency
"A certain amount of paperwork is required, as well as a commitment to keeping that person on staff."
Richard Evons, Evista Group, Long Island, N.Y.
"It was a real pain in the ass. Our government's insistence on numerous, simple-minded forms and affidavits is irritating, but it's necessary in the long run."
Mark Scott, Mark IV Builders, Bethesda, Md.
"The workers are very dedicated and hardworking for the sponsor."
Rob Doezie, Coastal Craft Construction, Villa Park, Calif.
"The language barrier was difficult at first, until the worker learned better English. After that, the worker and employer enjoyed a good relationship."
Clark Watts, Corvid Construction, Corvallis, Ore.
"It was OK, but [the worker's] loyalty was low. Once he learned the skills he needed, he went to work for himself."
Malcolm Campbell, Prism Design Architects, Salt Lake City