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Denver Immigration Attorney
Abogado de Inmigración de Denver

US Immigration Attorney
Serving All 50 States

Will immigration reform give the American agricultural industry the help it needs?

The immigration reform bill currently being considered in the Senate, S. 744, could provide benefits to currently undocumented farm workers and the farmers who employ them. If passed as drafted, the bill will legalize the undocumented workers currently living in the U.S., reduce the backlog of immigrant workers trying to enter the country and revamp the future immigration process. But more importantly, S. 744 will improve the process for growers to bring legally documented workers into the country and provide those workers with a special path to citizenship.
Currently, growers must obtain H-2A visas for the immigrant workers they bring into the county. These visas allow growers to bring in the skilled labor they need for temporary or seasonal work. Farmers have long been critical of the H-2A visa program and readily admit that the difficulty in obtaining the H-2A visas has forced them to turn to employing undocumented workers. Make no mistake, today’s agricultural industry is a 24/7/365 operation.  S. 744 will change this process by creating a visa program which allows immigrant workers to enter the country legally for a three-year period. Also, the new program will be managed by the Department of Labor, rather than the Department of Agriculture which manages the H-2A visa program. The hope is these changes will eliminate the need for farmers to circumvent the law to bring workers into the country.
Additionally, S. 744 will provide agricultural workers with the eligibility to obtain a new immigrant status known as a blue card. In order to apply for blue card status, workers must have worked at least 575 hours (or 100 work days) in the agricultural industry during a two-year period ending December 31, 2012. Additionally, the worker must pay a fine and pass a background check. After five years of continued work in the agricultural industry, the worker is eligible to apply for Lawful Permanent Residence (“LPR”) status. This enables agricultural workers to obtain LPR status at a rate far faster than workers in other industries.  These types of changes are sorely needed and long overdue.  This is progress!
Opponents of this measure claim that jobs in the agricultural industry should be held by American citizens, not immigrants. Yet, farmers are painfully aware that very few American citizens are willing to perform the jobs done by immigrant workers. Oftentimes the lack of skilled workers causes farmers to leave their crops in the fields to rot. As a result, farmers are anxious to see this bill passed; it will enable them to legally bring skilled workers into the country, providing them with the help they so desperately need.
Of course, agricultural workers see this measure as a path to a more secure and stable life, no longer having to hide and fear government raids. Once workers obtain legitimate authorization to work in the United States, chasing the American Dream becomes much more of a reality.

Christine Swenson