A U.S. Senate move to slash by half the number of “guest” workers allowed under an immigration bill is being condemned by an influential national construction association.

“The guest-worker program is a cornerstone of comprehensive immigration reform,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the Association General Contractors of America. “The Senate’s move to cut the guest-worker program from 400,000 to 200,000 annually is shortsighted and chokes off legal means to meet employment shortages.”

On May 23, the Senate passed, 74-24, an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) that cut the maximum number of worker visas that could be issued annually. The change was opposed by the Bush administration

The AGC is speaking out even though it has yet to decide whether it supports the bill. Officials said members want a law that improves U.S. border security while permitting immigrants to help meet the work force needs of American companies.

President George W. Bush and sponsors say the bill offers a path to citizenship for some of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the country. But it has been slammed by opponents, including many of Bush’s fellow Republicans, as giving amnesty to lawbreakers.

The construction industry is one of the largest employers of immigrant workers.