YAKIMA, Wash. — While the H-2A-visa agricultural foreign guestworker program is heavily used in Washington, there are other lesser known means of getting legal foreign workers.
“None of these things is a magic bullet but they are some other potentials,” Tom Roach, a Pasco immigration attorney, told the Washington Growers League annual meeting in Yakima, Feb. 20.
He reviewed nine options but later said they would be of minimal use to Washington growers, but the most promising is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
It’s a two-year renewable deferral of deportation with work authorization granted to children of illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. under 15 years of age. While the future of the program is in litigation, some 800,000 recipients can work. The National Council of Agricultural Employers estimates less than 2 percent of them work in agriculture. Roach agreed it’s a small number but said he knows of some who do.
Another avenue is immigrant visas or green cards (permanent residence status). About 1 million green cards are issued annually with 85 percent based on family. About 5,000 are set aside for low-skilled workers, but his law firm is helping a dairy use it to get workers, he said. The dairy foreman, who is from Mexico, is doing the recruiting, he said.
Foreign students in U.S. colleges on F-1 visas can get work permits for part-time work while in college and a permit for up to a year of work after college, Roach said.
People allowed into the country while applying for political asylum can get work permits while they await processing, he said.
Temporary protected status is given to eligible nationals from designated countries affected by armed conflict or natural disasters. It allows people to live and work in the U.S. for limited time but is renewable.
“It can kind of last forever. Trump has decided it will be discontinued Sept. 9 for people from El Salvador, but that’s in the courts so who knows if it will be,” Roach said.
The North American Free Trade Agreement allows people — mostly professionals, but not farmworkers — and goods to move across borders, he said. It requires a letter from a U.S. employer that the applicant submits at the border.