A deal is reached on a new visa program for farm workers

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An agreement has been reached on a new visa program that would add more visas for farm workers and would put them on a faster path to legal status. (Photo/ Scott Robertson/UMNS/flumc)

An agreement has been reached on a new visa program that would add more visas for farm workers and would put them on a faster path to legal status. (Photo/ Scott Robertson/UMNS/flumc)

Labor unions and business groups reached an agreement Friday on a new visa program for foreign farm workers, putting the “Gang of Eight” one step closer to finalizing its immigration reform bill.

The two sides agreed on a new visa program that would give out 112,000 visas for farm workers every year. A maximum of 337,000 agricultural visas would be given out in a three-year period. The Department of Agriculture would be responsible for setting the visa cap every year.

The new agricultural visas would be good for three years and could be used year-round. Visa holders would not be tied down to a single employer.

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in the agreement is allowing undocumented farm workers to be put on a speedier process to gain a permanent legal status as long as they continue working in agriculture. Farm workers would have to wait five years to get a green card, compared to the 13-year wait for other undocumented immigrants.

The next step is to have the “Gang of Eight” give the new visa program for agricultural workers its stamp of approval. The bipartisan group of senators is expected to unveil its immigration reform proposal early next week, possibly on Tuesday.

Labor unions applaud new visa program for farm workers

The United Farm Workers of America (UFW), one of the groups involved in the negotiations, released a statement Friday, saying it is “very pleased” with the agreement—one that the group had been working to achieve for more than a decade.

“Under the proposed new immigration process, farm workers would be able to work in the fields without fear of getting deported immediately and will be able to reunite with their families in a relatively short period of time,” UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said in a statement.

“Farm workers are the backbone of our agriculture industry here in the United States and a speedier process toward proper documentation provides an incentive for those farm workers who are currently working in agriculture to continue working in agriculture,” Rodriguez added.

The Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) also released a statement, applauding the agreement on the new visa program. It stated, “The framework and objectives of this agreement represent a positive step toward providing America’s farmers and ranchers access to a legal workforce now and in the future.”

The UFW and the AWC were two of the major groups that were involved in negotiations of the agreement. Also involved were Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

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