What the Senate Immigration Proposal Would Mean for Wineries


By Cary Greene, Outside Counsel

With the Senate immigration reform bill out this week, wineries are already asking about its potential impact on their businesses. On the broadest level, the bill contains sections that deal with undocumented farm workers currently in the U.S. and with temporary—the bill uses the term “nonimmigrant”—farm workers that may be needed in the future.
Importantly, the bill’s agriculture labor reform provisions are not dependent on any border security enhancement “triggers.”
Blue Card, Farm Workers Currently in the U.S. Undocumented farm workers currently in the U.S. are eligible for a work card (blue card) and possibly permanent resident status (green card) as long as they meet certain benchmarks. To qualify for a blue card, undocumented immigrants need to prove a minimum of 100 workdays or 575 hours in the two years prior to December 31, 2012. This achievable threshold is designed to encourage undocumented farm workers with agricultural training to continue in agriculture.
The blue card provisions need to be implemented through regulations largely written by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”). To qualify for a change in immigration status, blue card eligible workers will have to complete a background check and provide a fairly detailed set of documents within a limited time following final rulemaking. While the rules implementing the blue card are supposed to be issued within a year of the law’s passage, delays should be expected.
Nonimmigrant Visas, A Plan to Replace the H-2a. “Nonimmigrant” farm workers would be eligible for a visa in two flavors (i) portable, and (ii) tied to a particular employer. The program is supposed to be overseen by USDA, and there’s a cap on the number of available visas.
Long-term, the “nonimmigrant” program would replace the complex H-2a program, but the provisions do not appear to go into effect until late 2014. USDA would then have a year to implement rulemaking, but, again, delays would not be surprising.
Implementation of E-Verify. The Senate bill proposes phased in, mandatory use of e-verify within 5 years. If an employer has more than 5,000 employees, e-verify kicks in after two years. If more than 500 employees, three years. All agricultural employers are supposed to be phased in after four years, but there’s a provision that would give USDA the flexibility to determine if e-verify is workable within that time.
Keep in touch with your trade associations to stay on top of the latest developments.

THE AGRICULTURE COALITION FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM APPLAUDS LANDMARK AG LABOR AGREEMENT, WELCOMES SENATE COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION BILL

WineAmerica is a member of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform

April 17, 2013

The Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform (ACIR) applauds the successful attainment of a new landmark bipartisan employer and worker agreement on reform legislation intended to ensure a legal, stable agricultural workforce. The agreement was finalized yesterday by the Agricultural Workforce Coalition (AWC) and the United Farm Workers. ACIR, part of the AWC, provided much of the legal and economic guidance and expertise in the months-long negotiation that led to yesterday’s agreement.

The legislative agreement would encourage experienced farm workers, who comprise most of America’s current farm workforce, to earn legal residency by fulfilling a future work requirement in agriculture and meeting other conditions. It would also create a new agricultural visa program – distinct from the current and largely dysfunctional H-2A program – to admit future foreign workers to work specifically in the agricultural sector for up to three years at a time. These provisions will now be considered by the U.S. Senate as a key component of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. ACIR welcomes introduction of the Senate bill, and the coming debate.

In recent years, failed efforts to resolve America’s immigration dilemmas through “self-deportation,” “attrition through enforcement,” and hostile state laws, have harmed farms, farm workers, and families. It is time for Congress to act to modernize America’s immigration system. In fact, the very survival of many labor-dependent agricultural sectors depends upon Congress acting. These sectors not only provide America’s food and other agricultural products; they also create jobs and sustain entire communities. Labor force solutions will allow America’s fruit, vegetable, nursery, dairy, and livestock farms and ranches to survive and thrive in a competitive global economy.

ACIR expresses sincere gratitude for the steadfast leadership and perseverance of Senators Dianne Feinstein, Marco Rubio, Michael Bennet, and Orrin Hatch, who oversaw and assisted with the agricultural employer/worker advocate negotiations. ACIR also thanks Senators Charles Schumer and John McCain, and the entire “gang of eight” Senators who have worked tirelessly to craft the border security, enforcement, legal immigration, and legalization provisions of the broader bill. We look forward to working with the entire Senate, as well as the House of Representatives, toward enactment of comprehensive immigration reform that includes the landmark agricultural agreement.
For more information, contact the ACIR national co-chairs:

Craig Regelbrugge, American Nursery & Landscape Association
202/425-4401, cregelbrugge@anla.org

John Young, New England Apple Council
603/497-2132, neac1@aol.com

Luawanna Hallstrom, National Council of Agricultural Employers
858/449-9178, collaborativecommunicationslh@gmail.com

Agriculture Workforce Coalition Statement on Immigration Agreement

WineAmerica is a member of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition

Washington, D.C. (April 12, 2013)—“The Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) today
welcomed an agreement on immigration reform reached by the AWC, the United Farm
Workers (UFW) and key Senators engaged in the process. 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 coalition is committed to including an agricultural guest worker program and supporting
the general framework negotiated in any final immigration reform package. As members of
Congress begin the process of drafting legislative language, we look forward to working with
them to ensure that the bill details reflect the goals and intent of this framework agreement.

“The AWC appreciates the efforts of Senators Dianne Feinstein, Marco Rubio, Orrin Hatch and Michael Bennet in helping to foster this agreement between agriculture employers and farm workers

“For many farmers across the country, finding a sufficient number of workers to harvest crops
or care for animals is the biggest challenge they face in running their businesses. There is a
shortage of U.S. workers willing and able to perform farm work. Securing a reliable and
competent workforce for our nation’s farms and ranches is essential to ensuring that American consumers continue to enjoy abundant and affordable food on their grocery store shelves.”

About the Agriculture Workforce Commission

The Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) brings together organizations representing the diverse needs of the agriculture employees across the country. AWC serves as the unified voice of agriculture in the effort to ensure that America’s farmers, ranchers and growers have access to a stable and secure workforce.

To help achieve this goal, the AWC has developed a framework that presents a viable solution to agriculture’s labor needs. The proposal includes both an earned adjustment in status for current agricultural employees who presently lack legal status and a program to ensure an adequate farm workforce in the future. Also, unlike current programs such as H-2A, the AWC proposal is meant to ensure that all types of producers–including both those with seasonal labor needs and ones with year-round labor needs–have access to the workforce they need to remain productive and competitive.

To learn more about AWC, visit our website at www.agworkforcecoalition.org.