In January, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a new bill to reform immigration laws. But according to OAN Executive Director Jeff Stone, the bill as presently constituted would leave agriculture sectors, including nurseries, far short of the workers they need.
Among its requirements, the bill would force all employers to implement the E-verify (electronic employment eligibility verification) program within two years.
“The inclusion of E-verify before a transition plan for current workers and implementation of an agricultural visa system could be harmful to much of agriculture throughout the U.S.,” Stone told the Capital Press (Salem, Oregon). “The only certainty will be chaos for farmers and their workers.”
House Resolution 4760, called the Securing America’s Future Act, includes a proposal by House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Virginia) to set up a H-2C guestworker program, replacing the current H-2A program. It also includes provisions for border security and immigration enforcement, as well as three-year renewable legal status for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
The bill would also end the diversity lottery that issues 50,000 green cards to citizens of underrepresented nations. Citizens and permanent residents would no longer be allowed to sponsor non-nuclear family members for immigration, and legal immigration limits would be reduced by 25 percent from the current limit of around 1 million people.
But of greatest concern to agriculture is the requirement that all workers without legal status abandon their jobs, return to their home country and apply for an H-2C visa to be allowed to return.
The current H-2A program has no cap, but H-2C would have a cap of 450,000 workers. According to Stone, the bill would force around 1.4 million workers to leave the country, but it would only permit 450,000 to return. Agriculture would end up an estimated 1 million workers short.
“That’s the math I’m trying to come to grips with,” Stone said. “We want a comprehensive bill but we have to be able to live through the process.”
Read more about the interview at Capital Press