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Agricultural immigration bill seeks to restructure H-2 visas

In the last post, this blog reported that the E-Verify bill moving through the U.S. House did not include a proposed amendment that may have impacted the work visa rules regarding the agricultural industry. The nationwide mandatory E-Verify proposal was authored by the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which passed the measure on to the full House.

The House Judiciary Committee Chair also proposed a separate measure that is expected to receive further consideration in the committee at a later time. The separate immigration bill reportedly is designed to address issues that can arise surrounding business visas for agricultural purposes. Many Florida growers have been vocal regarding immigration issues during debate involving Florida law. The federal measure being considered in the House looks to restructure how H-2 visas are processed, and seeks to create a new H-2C visa category to replace most of the H-2A visas.

The temporary guest-worker program, under the American Specialty Agriculture Act, would see changes in where the visas are handled. The proposed measure recommends that Agriculture Department officials take over the visa responsibility instead of the Department of Labor.

The measure reportedly also has a provision mandating that farmers consider applicants who are U.S. residents or citizens before considering applicants who are working under a visa in the temporary guest-worker visa program. The bill limits the number of new H-2C visas to a maximum of 500,000 annually.

One supporter, a deputy director of the North Carolina Growers Association, told a House committee hearing recently that the lengthy process of hiring workers under the current H-2A visa program has driven some farm owners to hire undocumented immigrants. However, the Director of the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project says undocumented workers will continue to work in the shadows, if the bill is passed.

Source: Tucson Citizen, "House considers bill to streamline foreign farmworker visa program," Brittny Goodsell, Sept. 8, 2011

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