Question: I have heard that new legislation is being introduced to Congress regarding guest worker programs and legalization. Is this true and what types of programs are being discussed?
Answer: There are two recently introduced bills moving through Congress which attempt to address the issue of undocumented workers in the United States.
One such program is “The Agricultural Job Opportunity Benefits and Security Act of 2003”, introduced on September 23, 2003 by Senators Edward Kennedy and Larry Craig. This bill, S-1645, has won widespread bi-partisan support and if passed will primarily affect undocumented agricultural workers. Under this proposed legislation, workers who can demonstrate that they performed agricultural labor for at least 100 days during 12 consecutive months during the 18 month period ending August 31, 2003 would be eligible for temporary residence. This proposed legislation would also allow for adjustment to permanent resident status after an additional period of agricultural employment. Temporary residence could be converted to permanent residence after documenting 360 work days of agricultural employment during the six-year period beginning September 1, 2003 and ending August 31, 2009. This ability to convert to permanent residence sets this program apart from the H-2A temporary nonimmigrant category. It is estimated that 500,000 agricultural workers could legalize their status through this program.
Other recently introduced bills are H.R. 3534 the “Border Enforcement and Revolving Employment to Assist Laborers (BE REAL) Act of 2003 and H.R. 2688 (amending the INA with regard to H-1B visas). The “BE REAL” Act, introduced by Representative Tom Tancredo, calls for drastic and sweeping changes to US Immigration policy and is not expected to move forward in its current form. This proposed legislation would replace the current H-1B nonimmigrant class with a generalized guest-worker program. This program would establish as single “H” nonimmigrant visa for workers coming to the US temporarily to perform skilled or unskilled labor for which no US citizens or legal permanent residents are qualified and /or available. This bill does not provide amnesty to undocumented workers and makes border security a requirement for the establishment of the guest-worker program. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to certify that the border entry-exit system and an electronic employment verification system are implemented as a prerequisite to the establishment of the guest worker program.