Sweeping immigration bill will include a temporary worker program for the agriculture industry
By Amanda Brodhagen, Farms.com
The U.S. Senate has a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the works, which is scheduled to be written in the next week and introduced in the coming weeks. Senators like Jeff Flake, R-Ariz, hope that the bill will gain bipartisan support for the bill which would include a temporary worker program for agriculture workers.
Drafting the bill will be tricky as it attempts to balance the job opportunities for Americans with the need for foreign workers who can fill low-wage, low-skill jobs. The bill would provide an accelerated path towards citizenship for those in the agricultural industry and create a steady supply of labour for farmers who often rely on workers who have come to the country illegally. Farm workers already in the country would get first crack at legal status compared to other immigrants in the country illegally. Currently, it’s estimated that more than half of the nation’s farm labour workforce is thought to be in the country illegally. Legislators have been working on finalizing the agreement, which would include bipartisan support, but details like wages and number of visas are still being negotiated.
There is tension between labour groups and agricultural producers, as labour groups are accusing farmers of pushing for lower farmworkers’ wages, while farmers dispute this claim saying that they want to pay a fair wage for their labour. Growers argue that their industry’s viability depends on foreign workers and say that they need a better way to hire labour legally.
The immigration bill would attempt to create a more permanent workforce by granting legal status to farm workers who’ve worked in the industry for at least two years and who intend to remain working in the industry for at least another five years. This would allow these workers to become eligible for green cards which would be faster compared to the 10-year path towards a green card that other immigrants who are in the country illegally would face.
The last attempt at a major immigration overhaul was in 1986, which failed to create a workable visa program for farmworkers.