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US Business, Labor Agree on Immigration Deal

An anti-immigration rights protester, left, holds up a sign as he is pointed at and shouted at by immigration rights marchers during a Puente Movement event March Against Deportation, Family Separation, and Workplace Raids on March 11, 2013, in Phoenix.
U.S. officials say big business and labor have reached an agreement on a low-skilled guest-worker program, creating a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.

Under the agreement, a new "W visa" program would go into effect April 1, 2015. After a year, W visa holders would be able to seek permanent status and they would be able to change jobs.

In the first year of the program, 20,000 visas would be issued, eventually expanding to a maximum of 200,000 visas that could be granted each year.

The number of visas would fluctuate depending on unemployment rates, job openings, employer demand and data collected by a new federal agency that will monitor the market - the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research.

White House officials said Saturday President Barack Obama is encouraged by the progress of the talks in the Senate as Congress works to come up with a comprehensive bipartisan immigration bill. Immigration reform is a priority in the president's second and final term in office, which ends in January of 2017.

The labor and business agreement was reached late Friday in a conference telephone call with the president of the AFL-CIO labor organization, Richard Trumka; the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donohue; and New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who acted as the mediator.

The labor organization and Chamber of Commerce have long held major disagreements over guest-worker programs. The dispute covered how high of wages should be allowed for workers, and in which industries. The agreement settles the issue in various industries, including hotel, restaurant, janitorial, retail and construction, among others.

Senator Schumer is one of eight Senators - four Democrats and four Republicans - who must still sign off on the deal. They all are expected to sign the pact, clearing the way for the new immigration bill to be presented to the Senate in the next few weeks.

The House of Representatives is working on a similar bill.