SALEM, Ohio — The U.S. Senate approved comprehensive immigration legislation June 27 that includes a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants and provides new opportunities in the ag workforce.
By a vote of 68-32, the Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Act, which gives immigrants and their employers new options for seasonal and year-round employment.
“This bill will ease the burden on agricultural employers, create more jobs along the entire supply chain, and boost the economy,” said United Fresh CEO Tom Stenzel, in a released statement.
United Fresh applauded the vote alongside the produce industry’s major labor organizations — Agriculture Workforce Coalition and United Farm Workers.
United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez said the farm provisions within the bill will “help improve working conditions and job opportunities for farm workers. Farm workers will be able to reunite with their families and work without fear of getting deported.”
The following are the major agricultural provisions within the bill, according to a summary by United Fresh:
• Current undocumented farm workers will be eligible to obtain legal status through a new Blue Card program if they choose to remain working in agriculture.
• Ag workers who can document working in U.S. agriculture for a minimum of 100 workdays or 575 hours prior to Dec. 31, 2012, can adjust to this new Blue Card status.
• After a minimum of five years, workers who fulfill their Blue Card work requirements in U.S. agriculture will become eligible to apply for a Green Card, providing that they have no outstanding taxes, no convictions, and pay a fine.
• A new agricultural guest worker program will be established, with two work options: An “At-Will” option will allow workers to enter the country to accept a specific job offer from an authorized agricultural employer, under a three-year visa. Employees will then be able to move within the country, working “at will” for any other authorized agricultural employer during that time. Employers must provide housing or a housing allowance to these workers.
A “Contract-Based” option will allow workers to enter the country to accept a specific contract for a specific amount of work from an authorized employer. This will also provide for a three-year visa, and require employers to provide housing or a housing allowance.
• All guest workers will be paid an agreed-upon wage under the terms of this agreement.
• There is a visa cap for the first five years of the program while current workers are participating in the Blue Card program. The secretary of agriculture has the authority to modify that cap if circumstances in agricultural labor require.
• The new program will be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.Year-round stability. The Agriculture Workforce Coalition — which represents agricultural employers across the country — said the bill goes beyond the current H-2A Agricultural Worker program, which allows immigrants to enter the country for “temporary” employment.
“Unlike current programs such as H-2A, this agreement would mean that all types of producers — including both those with seasonal labor needs and ones with year-round labor needs — have access to the workforce they need to remain productive and competitive,” AWC said in a released statement.