Immigration Reform Makes it Through the Senate

The U.S. Senate has approved the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 by a vote of 68 to 32. The measure includes provisions to allow current undocumented ag workers to gain citizenship after working another five years in agriculture and create a new guest worker program.

The measure was not supported by Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran or committee members Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. Chambliss argued the ag provisions made it too easy for farm workers to gain citizenship and wouldn't create a stable workforce. He tried to make changes through a series of amendments - but the leadership didn't allow them to come to a vote.

House Speaker John Boehner says the House will not take up the Senate-approved measure. He says they will do their own bill - through regular order - and it will be legislation that reflects the will of the majority and the will of the American people.

The following are key agricultural labor provisions included in the immigration reform bill:

* Current undocumented farm workers will 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 December 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.

* There is 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.

* The new program will be administered by the Department of Agriculture.

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