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Congress considers agricultural immigration reform, P. 1

Immigration issues surrounding business and employment continue to make news as lawmakers struggle with the economic crisis. U.S. immigration law allows temporary work visas for seasonal agricultural workers under the H-2A visa classification. The visas are a form of non-immigrant work visas. A number of federal proposals are being bandied about in Congress seeking to reform the nation's agricultural visas.

Congressional lawmaker are considering a variety of measures that lawmakers hope will make it easier for agricultural workers to enter the county on a temporary agricultural work visa. In the U.S. House, two proposals have reportedly garnered the most interest among Representatives in the area of H-2A visa reform.

The American Specialty Agricultural Visa Act is a measure that would eliminate the H-2A visa program and replace it with a new temporary worker visa program. The newly created visa would be called the H-2C temporary visa, which would be a 10-month temporary visa.

The new visa would eliminate the stipulation that it only be used to fill temporary agricultural needs, apparently primarily in deference to the dairy industry. The H-2C visa program would be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the proposed measure. The number of H-2C visas would be capped at 500,000.

A second idea, the Legal Agriculture Workforce Act, would leave the H-2A visa program intact, but would add a new agriculture guest worker program, or "W visa" program. The cap on the number of visas would reportedly vary, but like the ASAA proposal, the LAWA would offer only 10-month temporary visas. The measure, however, remains sketchy, as the legislative language remains sparse, delegating much of the authority to administrative rule making.

Two other proposals are garnering less attention. The measures have been proposed by two separate New York Representatives and each caters more directly to the dairy industry, granting dairy workers a three-year visa in the H-2A program. The two New York proposals also provide a pathway for H-2A workers to eventually adjust to permanent status.

In the next post, this blog will discuss some agricultural visa proposals being considered by lawmakers in the Senate.

Source: Agri-View, "National immigration reform proposals hope to mend cracks in H-2A program," Jeffrey Hoffelt, Dec. 22, 2011

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