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PLNA e-News: Protecting Values In the Nation

The Situation with H-2A and H-2B

Tuesday, January 23, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gregg Robertson
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Landscape WorkersWASHINGTON, D.C. – With the recent federal government shutdown over the lack of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or “Dreamers”) legislation, the outlook for improving the H-2A and H-2B guest worker program and general immigration reform is a hazy as ever. We are in a very fluid situation where things could get better in some respects, or substantially worse.

How DACA and the Shutdown Affects H-2A and H-2B

Senate Republicans and Democrats came out of the shutdown with an agreement to work on a bipartisan bill to resolve DACA and other immigration issues. But they gave themselves a short three weeks to do so, or face another potential governmental shutdown. It’s a huge task that they have not been able to solve in the three months since President Trump ended the executive order that protected the 700,000 DACA young people who had entered this country illegally with their parents.

Solving the DACA problem is the chief concern of Senate Democrats. Across the aisle, Republicans are interested in border security and a border wall, restricting the ability of family members already in the U.S. to bring relatives into the country, ending the lottery that allows some to enter the U.S. legally and other issues that will reduce the number of immigrants that can enter the U.S. both legally and illegally.

The scope of what the Senate Republicans and Democrats hope to distill into legislation in three weeks is forcing issues like the H-2A and H-2B guest worker programs to the side. Given that this is an election year, Congress will have little appetite to take on more immigration-related issues.

First Half Year H-2B Cap is Reached

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on December 21 that the first half-year cap of 33,000 visas had been reached. The second tranche of 33,000 visas will not be available until April 1. Last year, Congress had given the DHS secretary the ability to increase the H-2B cap. This authority expired last September 30. At this point, DHS is no authority to increase the cap.

Legislation for New H-2C Program

Legislation has been introduced in the House to create a new agricultural guest worker program H-2C. this new program would allow agricultural guest workers to stay in the country for three years, before having to “touch back” to their home country for 45 days.

But the legislation for the new program has problems.

·   The proposed H-2C program has a cap of 450,000 visas. Currently, the H-2A program has no cap and last year brought over 200,000 farm workers into the country, up over 20% from 2016.

·   The legislation calls for mandatory E-Verify use immediately, with no phase in. Now, about 26% of the agricultural workforce is undocumented, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center. Agriculture would stand to lose one of every four workers immediately upon the legislation’s enactment.

·   The touch back provision offers no guarantee that workers under the program would be readmitted to the U.S. after their touch back period was completed.

·   There is no clear path for current undocumented workers working on agricultural operations to be admitted to the program.

·   The new program would replace the H-2A program with no transition period.

In short, the proposed H-2C legislation, as now written, would cause an immediate disruption in the current agricultural workforce. Adding to the uncertainly of this legislation is that it was recently amended into a very conservative immigration bill that has a slim chance to pass in the House and little chance to pass in the Senate.

PLNA is working with AmericanHort to assess whether changes can be made to the legislation to make it an improvement over the current H-2A program.


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