Immigration Reform Act Makes Headlines
Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Tom Daschle (D-SD) introduced the Immigration Reform Act, S. 2010, on January 21, 2004. The bill is aimed at reforming the H-2B guest worker program, which is the visa program that allows non-agricultural, temporary and/or seasonal foreign workers into the country to work jobs not taken by American workers. The Immigration Reform Act’s primary appeal to the landscape industry is its potential to allow the legalization of current illegal workers, as well as streamlining the ability to bring in future guest workers. The American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA) has been a long-standing advocate for immigration labor reform. The Immigration Reform Act is complementary to the AgJOBS bills (S.1645 and H.R.3142) that now enjoy broad support in Congress. If and when enacted, the bill will be instrumental to the future business operations of many ANLA members.
The Immigration Reform Act is currently in early stages of the political process. The bill contains significant reforms to the current H-2B program. It would raise the current admissions cap of 66, 000 to 100,000 per year. Another key initiative of the act is to create a new worker category called H-2C, with 200,000 available positions renewable in two years. This category of workers will have no seasonal and temporary cap and will therefore be able to work year round.
The Immigration Act will also address the current inefficiencies in the Department of Labor’s (DOL) paperwork process. The current process, called certification, requires DOL approval and can result in costly delays and denials. With the Immigration Act, a process called attestation will be implemented. A program user simply must attest to having met the program’s requirements; an application cannot be rejected by DOL unless it is incomplete.
There is still the concern regarding future competition among industries such as hospitality and tourism that also use the program. There will, in fact, be continued competition for the limited positions allotted under the Immigration Reform Act. Though not a perfect solution, the bill would offer many improvements for green industry businesses. With the new workers category, businesses would be able to retain employees for two years or more, supporting a consistent workforce and offering opportunities for longevity and progress. The simplification of the paperwork process would also be invaluable to the green industry in the interest of both time and money. With more flexible regulations and more efficient processes, landscape businesses and others would stand to gain a lot from the Immigration Reform Act.
In essence, this new bipartisan bill adds to the comprehensive immigration reform debate. Along with bills offered earlier by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Reps. Jeff Flake and Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), it advances policy ideas for resolving a contentious and worsening problem. It also serves as a valuable counterpart to the grower-specific AgJOBS bills.