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Leaders from United Fresh Produce Association (United Fresh) and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) are applauding landmark legislation introduced in the Senate this week to reform U.S. immigration and agricultural guest worker programs.
Based on provisions and agreements made by the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC), United Farm Workers and key lawmakers, the agriculture labor provisions included in the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act were praised as “an important step forward in our fight to achieve meaningful immigration reform to provide a legal and stable workforce for fruit and vegetable growers,” said United Fresh CEO Tom Stenzel.
“After more than a decade of work by our industry, we welcome immigration reform legislation from the U.S. Senate’s gang of eight,” said Bryan Silbermann, president/CEO of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association (PMA), who along with Stenzel, praised the efforts of Senators Feinstein, Rubio, Hatch and Bennet, as well as industry leaders including: Tom Nassif, president/CEO, Western Growers; Chuck Conner, president/CEO, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; Mike Stuart, president, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association; Arturo Rodriguez, president, United Farm Workers; Jerry Kozak, president/CEO, National Milk Producers Federation; and Nancy Foster, president/CEO, US Apple Association.
The agreement addresses key issues of importance to the produce industry, including allowing farm workers currently in the country illegally to earn legal U.S. residency by fulfilling a future work requirement in agriculture, among other conditions and; creating a new guest worker program specifically for the agriculture sector.
A summary of the key agricultural labor provisions in the Immigration Reform Bill, which will be administered by the Department of Agriculture, include:
• Current undocumented farmworkers would be eligible to obtain legal status through a new Blue Card program if they choose to remain working in agriculture.
• Ag workers who can document working in U.S. agriculture for a minimum of 100 workdays or 575 hours prior to Dec. 31, 2012, can adjust to this new Blue Card status.
• 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:
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
Leaders of both produce trade groups said their organizations will continue to work through the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform and Agricultural Workforce Coalition to advance agriculture labor reform as part of the broader immigration reform package to ensure a stable workforce for its members and the broader fresh produce industry through grassroots efforts.
The Senate will now consider this agreement as part of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.