Caterpillar CEO Says Visa Reform Needed to Ease Workforce Gaps

Caterpillar Inc., the world’s biggest maker of construction and mining machines, wants more visas for engineers and a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.

“We have trouble filling highly-skilled positions like engineers and scientists,” said Doug Oberhelman, chairman and chief executive officer of Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar, according to an e-mailed draft of a speech delivered at the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition today in Chicago. “We also have trouble filling many lower-skilled positions. Immigrant employees are helping us compete today.”

Caterpillar, which gets two-thirds of its sales outside the U.S., has seen foreign workers it has trained go work for competitors overseas because they could not stay in the country, which is “unacceptable,” Oberhelman said.

Reforms should include safe borders, changing visa laws to better reflect business needs and providing a path to a legal status for undocumented immigrants with the understanding that they meet strict conditions, Oberhelman said.