Michelle Hackman, Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2019
A bipartisan group of lawmakers agreed on a deal easing restrictions on foreign agricultural workers, including a path to citizenship for the more than one million farmworkers estimated to be in the U.S. illegally.
However in exchange, the agricultural sector will be required to verify the legal status of their workers.
The legislation announced Wednesday by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D., Calif) and Dan Newhouse (R., Wash.) has the support of 24 Democrats and 20 Republicans in the House. It marks a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation, particularly on immigration, where Republicans have generally not supported a citizenship path for any undocumented immigrants, and Democrats are increasingly loath to support new enforcement measures.
The bill could reach the House floor as soon as late November, a House Democratic aide said. But its fate is less certain in the Senate.
The administration has issued regulations loosening restrictions on foreign agricultural workers. Farmers participating in the seasonal guest-worker program are no longer required to take out classified ads in newspapers seeking workers. Instead, they are only required to post job notices online, which is cheaper. The administration also allows farmers to pay most foreign workers less than the minimum required for domestic employees.
The bipartisan deal would codify those changes and extend the seasonal program year-round. Currently, farmworkers are allowed to remain for up to six months at a time, in line with different seasonal farm needs. But the dairy industry has long pushed to expand the guest-worker program to a full year.
The accord also would provide a path to citizenship for the more than one million farmworkers estimated to be already living in the U.S. illegally. Farmworkers who can show they have spent at least three months in the previous two years working in agriculture can apply for a new five-year visa, which would require continued work in the sector for the visa’s duration.
Workers who have lived in the country for at least 10 years could apply for a green card if they work four more years in the industry. If a farmworker has been in the industry for less than 10 years, they must put in an additional eight years to become eligible for a green card. Green-card holders are eligible to become U.S. citizens, typically after five years.
In exchange, the agriculture industry would be required to use E-Verify, an electronic system that allows employers to check applicants’ immigration status. The industry has strongly resisted such a requirement, as about half of farmworkers aren’t legally authorized to work in the U.S., according to the National Agricultural Workers Survey, which is run by a Labor Department agency.