Elements of the billA breakdown of immigration legislation passed by the Senate.
By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek
•The measure would allow current undocumented farm workers to obtain what is known as a “blue card” if they have worked 100 days in agriculture in 2011 and 2012 and choose to remain in agriculture. After five years, those who have paid all taxes owed, have not been convicted of a serious crime, and are willing to pay a $400 fine would be eligible for permanent “green card” legal status. Their spouses and minor children would also be allowed to adjust their status.
•The bill would create a new agricultural guest worker visa program under which some workers would receive a portable employment-based visa that would allow them to change jobs and others would receive a contract-based visa that would replace the current H-2A program.
•The H-2A program would sunset after the new guest worker visa program is operational. Under the contract program, visas could be for as long as three years and employers would have to provide housing or a housing allowance.
•The bill would set wages for four major occupational categories: crop workers, livestock workers, sorters and graders who work in packing houses and equipment operators.
•Employers would be required to verify the legal status of their employees, but Western Growers CEO Tom Nassif said he thinks the verification program will be workable.
• Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack would be in charge of determining the number of workers needed. National Council of Farmer Cooperatives CEO Chuck Conner has said he thinks the county Farm Service Agency offices would help the secretary determine the need and keep track of the workers, and that farm owners would be comfortable working with those offices.
Tom Vilsack said recently that USDA’s presence in nearly every county in the country would allow it to play a larger role in implementation of the bill. The Labor Department would still be in charge of enforcing rules on working conditions.