Immigration Reform and Agriculture: Farmer Organizations Praise LegislationPress releases from the National Farmers Union and United Fresh (the nation’s largest produce grower’s Association) follow. Both applaud passage of immigration reform in the Senate. Beginningfarmers.org does not take political positions on issues that are not specific to the promotion of beginning farmers. We do, however, strongly encourage comments and opinions from readers about the immigration reform legislation, and specifically about the way in which it is related to agriculture.
National Farmers Union Press Release: NFU Pleased by Senate Approval of Immigration ReformNational Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson issued the following statement in response to the Senate’s 68-32 vote in favor of S. 744, the Border Security Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act:
“I am very pleased by the Senate’s action on immigration reform today. S. 744 includes important provisions that will bring greater stability to the farm workforce and provide a practical, legal means for immigrants to work in agriculture. It also allows for peace of mind for all parties in agriculture to know that a more easy-to-use and effective system will be enacted. I look forward to continuing to work with the House of Representatives to pass immigration legislation that achieves many of these same ends.”United Fresh Press Release: Landmark legislation will provide access to stable workforce for agriculture industry United Fresh congratulates the Senate today on the final vote of 68-32 to pass the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. The comprehensive immigration reform bill includes agricultural labor provisions that secure access to a stable, legal workforce. “We applaud the Senate for seizing the opportunity to enact immigration reform that is desperately needed in the fresh produce industry and many other sectors of agriculture,” said Tom Stenzel, United Fresh CEO. “This bill will ease the burden on agricultural employers, create more jobs along the entire supply chain, and boost the economy. We appreciate the efforts of our allies in the Agriculture Workforce Coalition and United Farm Workers with whom we worked to advance provisions that will provide a legal and stable workforce for fruit and vegetable growers.” There are several key agricultural labor provisions included in the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate:
· 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:
o Ag workers who can document working in U.S. agriculture for a minimum of 100 workdays or 575 hours prior to December 31, 2012 can adjust to this new Blue Card status.
o 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:
o 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.
o 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 Department of Agriculture.
The House of Representatives is expected to take up immigration reform in July. United Fresh will continue to advocate for agriculture labor provisions as part of any broader reform package to ensure a stable workforce for our members and the entire fresh produce industry through grassroots efforts and continued cooperation with AWC and other stakeholders.