The Washington Farm Labor Association has released the following summary of the U.S. Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill. It is based on the 19-page bill summary.
* All employers, including agriculture, will begin mandatory E-verify (electronic verification of employment eligibility) in a 5-year phase-in.
* A low-tech work visa, called a W Visa, will replace the H-2B program.
* Two foreign guestworker visa programs, W-2 and W-3, will replace the H-2A program. W-2 will be by contract. W-3 will be at-will allowing employees to move among registered employer who also agree to hire domestic workers.
* It is unclear, until the full bill is released, which W visa provisions apply to W-2 and W-3 visas.
* Employers will register to use W visa workers for three years and workers can receive visas for three years. W visas will be portable, allowing workers to move among registered employers.
* A new agency, the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research, is created to monitor caps, wages and recruitment for W visas.
* Many detailed caps, safety valves and other provisions for the W visa program may not apply to W-2 and W-3 visas. For example, W visa holders will receive the same rights as domestic workers to file suit on any employment issue, but the worker and employer may be forced to undergo a complaint hearing if the claim is a violation of the immigration law.
* Undocumented workers already in the U.S. may apply to adjust their status to a Registered Provisional Immigrant. It would be a 10-year journey from RPI status to legal permanent resident with many restrictions and provisions and at least a $1,000 fine.
* Conversely, undocumented farmworkers who have previously worked in agriculture and agree to continue working in agriculture, at least part time, for several years, will be eligible for legal permanent resident status after paying a $400 fine. This is a considerably better deal than undocumented workers in other industries, said Dan Fazio, director of the Washington Farm Labor Association.
Housing requirements are unclear and W-3 visa workers should not be eligible for employer-paid housing, he said.
A compromise might be that employers provide it at a reasonable charge so that only people who really need it would request it, he said. The same could apply for domestic workers, he said.
-- Dan Wheat